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Author Topic: The Degenerate  (Read 8979 times)
mako
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Posts: 89



« Reply #60 on: September 04, 2017, 12:01:47 PM »

Thanks for the feedback Dotys.  I do think I specified Dutch heritage in one chapter, but it's interesting to me that that's what came to mind for you.

Damo's cave was not something I was going to add before.  Would you mind explaining in more detail what about it threw you for a loop?   Was the writing confusing?  Did you not enjoy the content?  Too much genre shift?

Thanks.
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mako
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Posts: 89



« Reply #61 on: November 06, 2017, 08:14:30 PM »

6.5 pages into the next chapter, now that it's indoor season again.  Back to the survivalist genre and introduction of a new character, and world.  Coming soon...
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deerstalker
*****
Posts: 7416


« Reply #62 on: November 07, 2017, 04:56:30 AM »

Don't stop now 
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mako
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Posts: 89



« Reply #63 on: November 12, 2017, 09:18:49 PM »

I decided to get back to the survival genre for a while and fill out the adventure with a new character and a side mission since I was getting a little bored of writing only three characters myself.  Meet: Kit Cooper.  This is not the entire chapter but I wanted to put something up.

C10 – Kit’s Scouts

Kit Cooper squatted atop the upturned back end of a bus with its nose sunk in the interstate embankment where it had run adrift, smoking a cigarette.  Ahead of him, a line of parked vehicles lay abandoned in haphazard lines as far as his eyes could see.

In places, there were three or four cars abreast both on and off the paved lines of Interstate 90.  Their drivers had wedged themselves into a funnel trap leading upward toward the pass that had obviously been blocked at its highest point.  He had seen the same at the Idaho-Washington border, though not as bad as this, where there were few alternatives through the mountains heading west.

Campers, semi-trucks, rental cars, SUV’s, loaded trucks and all the rest stretched as far back as this nowhere town of Cataldo.  The amount of wealth that fleet of parked vehicles and everything inside them was worth boggled his imagination.  We had no idea, he thought to himself. 

This was a mess.

Gerrard and Morris fettled with the handheld communicator ahead of him, holding wire stripped from one of the parked vehicles and a large truck antenna to boost reception.  It wouldn’t do them any good.  These were rated at what—36 miles?  And the scanning range was too narrow to pick up groups operating in the area supposing there were any survivors in the area.

“Benjamin, how far to the pass?” he shouted, pitching his voice just loud enough for them to hear.

Benjamin Gerrard looked up from the mess of wire he was untangling in the back of an abandoned truck and then up toward the pass as if it were visible from here and thought a moment.

“I don’t know.  It starts getting steeper soon.  Maybe twenty-five, fifty miles?”

Kit spat his cigarette in place of an expletive. 

“I’m not great with distance though” the young man ahead of him called back with a smile.

Ben was tall and cumbersome, awkward in his movements but pleasant.  He always had a smile and did what he was asked without hesitation.  He looked high European, but Kit knew he was American grassroots to his core.  He wouldn’t have been Kit’s first choice but the kid was growing on him.  He was a local that knew the way around as well as anyone and never hesitated to do what his was told.

Cliff, on the other hand was ex-military which was ideal for the situation at hand.  He was short and bulky and balding early and was subsequently strong and useful to have at hand, especially since he could handle a firearm.  Or did the Navy know how to shoot beyond a urinal?  He’d have to rib Morris on that point later.

He watched the ember smolder against the yellow paint of the school bus.  It reflected his anxieties about the mission. 

The fire that had taken Coeur D’Alene had burnt thousands of acres.  Most of the road toward the pass had been a scarred dystopian wasteland still burning in places as they passed.  No fire crew had been around to clean it up and so it had still sent smoke from stumps and fallen trees that blocked the way.  They sky was still thick with smoke from distant blazes.

It made traversing this interstate distance even harder, wherever the shoulder was blocked by downed trees so that a single car could not be driven or pushed out of the way to let them pass.  They had used a chainsaw at several points.   It had taken more than a day to make it less than 100 miles already and time was not on their side.

If the pass was blocked this far back, there was little chance of getting through the way they had been going at it.  Every avenue of progress was congested by the forgotten remains of the people who had been trying to do the same thing.  It wouldn’t work.

Less than an hour, Kit thought.  That’s how long it would have taken us to come this far before.

He shook it off, turning around to watch their six-o’clock.  He thought about the success they had already had finding two survivors on the way.  That’s what this mission was about—survivors.  Real people.

Twenty minutes later, Kit’s eyes went sideways with a quick and lazy glance at the sound of a snapping twig in the distance.  Not a muscle of his body tensed as he waited passively for the sound perpetrator to reveal himself.  A moment later, the two new rescues walked into view.  Kit sat unperturbed as they grew near.

His one-sixteenth was coming out, he knew.  That was interesting.  It was like a foreign possession of his personality.  It had never really been useful until now, but Kit had always known it was there.  A feint, almost ignorable trace of Blackfoot Indian blood passed down from a forgone ancestor—someone a few generations past who had somehow mingled with his family’s mostly Spanish-European blood.

It was taking over since Kit had been assigned to lead this mission west for survivors over the Montana-Idaho border.  He sat silently like a patient Indian awaiting the moment to spring into action with a tomahawk in hand and do some bloody deed.  That impulse was within him.

Its command was small by proportion but not insignificant; this little side of himself that had gone ignored most of his life.  He had seen it, of course, playing cops and robbers with kids down the block where he grew up in a suburb of New Jersey.  Nobody caught him in hide-and-seek.  Nobody put him in jail.  And when he was caught he had a bad habit of giving the other kid a bloody lip without aggravation.  It had gotten him in trouble many times, this I-don’t-lose-I-go-down-fighting part of himself.

It was the same one-sixteenth or so that had made him enlist.  He had been offered opportunities for Native American scholarships but the thought of turning over books all day made him mad.  He would much rather ruck into the bush and await someone needing a silent knife to the back.

Of course, that hadn’t been how his military career had gone.  He had missed that MOS entirely.  But much thanks to the dominant 93% European heritage he hadn’t gotten himself into trouble and had done quite well for himself, going on to retire from active duty with enough time under his belt to make E5, Sergeant, and had continued on in the past three years with the National Guard.

But nothing in all his time in the military felt like this.  Running privates through combat mockups was one thing, but this was real.  A chance to lead a small cadre into something dangerous and necessary—he felt needed and useful for the first time in his life.  And while the 93% urged responsibility for the people under his care, that one-sixteenth felt truly alive for the first time in his life.  It had been waiting for this chance.

His face was the same stale blank when James, the fourth and newest member of their party, climbed up the back of the bus with agility and sat beside him a little winded.  Kit was glad he had pressed to keep him on with them.

Yes, that had been a good choice.  Management hadn’t allowed him to take more than Cliff and Ben with him on the mission, but stragglers he didn’t have to urge back on their own.  They were tag-alongs whom no-one would miss.  It might even help in the short term to have fewer mouths to feed as the city center continued to organize its new operations.

 “We found motorcycles and ATV’s we could take at a nearby shop.  Only trouble is there’s razor-wire around the whole thing, but I can get over it.”

The Indian side seemed to have possessed him entirely now.  His eyes stayed forward as if scanning for enemies in the trees with an easy, self-assured impassiveness.

“Good work.  Did you find a way around?”

“I’m not sure,” James replied.  “There’s a paved walking path but it looks like it goes north, across the river.”

The spell seemed to break then, and Kit turned to face James.  “We can ask Ben.”

“It’s that or take backroads for days until were lost.”

Kit nodded and looked ahead again for a moment as James caught his breath.  Then he turned around and gave the signal for Ben and Cliff to wrap it up.  The three of them followed James and Carl toward their find several blocks away.

There was a small recreational store along the main and only memorable road in a town that barely deserved a name.   Inside the fence were a small selection of ATV’s on a lot with a small building attached.

“How do we get in” Kit asked.

“Right, I think we can use the carpet from the entrance” James replied in a way that suggested he was making this up as he went.
James’s strange entrance procedure involved throwing the rug over the razor wire and having them help him slide over.  He slung the giant plastic rug up onto the wire, keeping a grip on one end.  Then he positioned it better until it slumped over the top of the wire.
“Why don’t we just throw a rock through the window or break down the door,” Cliff said.

“We’d still have broken glass to deal with and it would make a lot of noise,” replied James.  “Can two of you come hold the corners to keep it from slipping?”

Kit looked on in curiosity as the procedure, his head tilted slightly aside.  “Now how do you get over” Kit asked.

“You give me a boost and I slide over on my belly and catch the fence on the other side to flip myself over and land on my feet.”

“You’ve done this before?”

“Not the razor wire part, but the rest, yes.”

“And you just came up with this?”

“Saw it in a book.”

“Ok.”

Kit hardly believed he was doing it when he laced his fingers for a boot lift and offered it to James.  He wasn’t sure he liked gesture of being under someone’s boot but the whole thing was too amusing to him to object.

“Don’t get hurt,” Kit said.

“I won’t” replied James.

With surprising dexterity, James was up and over the carpet, sliding face down towards the other side.  Kit grimaced as he realized the disaster of his position but had no time to react as James grabbed the fence with his hands and deftly flipped himself over, landing only a little imperfectly on his feet on the other side.  He turned around and smiled.  Kit only nodded his head in bemusement. 

“He just ninja’d that,” Cliff remarked.

“Yes, James is a ninja,” Ben added.

Kit was still too surprised to process what he had just let transpire.  That razor wire could have done serious damage to James and that would have been very bad for the mission.  Don’t let that happen again, he berated himself.

Still, James had just proven himself in a very real, albeit unusual, manner as someone with unique and, frankly, unusual aptitudes.  He couldn’t exactly call it weird but it was.  Who knew how to scale razor wire with a rug and what made someone think of a solution like that.  The window or door, or some clippers on the fence would have been much more straight-forward.  Still, he liked what he saw in James.  Odd talent could prove useful—it just had.

In short time James had unlocked the front door to the establishment and they were free to choose from a small selection of off-road vehicles.  James and Ben were the only two without off-road vehicle experience.   James was chosen for the XR-250 because it seemed like something he might manage with a bit of practice. Ben was placed on a King Quad.  Carl also chose a four-wheeler while Cliff and Kit each chose two-stroke motorcycles from the lot.

It was full noon before they were packed and ready to proceed.  Thankfully, they hadn’t had an encounter since killing their vehicle engines earlier, but the motorcycles were a sure way to attract unwanted attention.  James and Ben would have to learn fast. 
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mako
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Posts: 89



« Reply #64 on: November 12, 2017, 09:19:41 PM »


“Everybody check your straps and do a mental checklist.  Water, gas, light, radios, food, spare clothes if you have them—” Kit’s eyes landed on James and Carl apologetically.  “Anything you need let’s make sure we have it before we start these engines.”

“How about a woman with tight shorts and a case of beer,” Cliff said.

“Can’t help you” replied Kit.

“We can check every gas station on the way.”

“We’ll see what we find” said Kit with a chary smile.

“Are we taking the path?” James asked.

“Right.  Ben where does that paved foot path lead north of here?  Does it follow the highway a good distance?”

Ben shrugged, looking as if someone had put him in front of a classroom on pop quiz day.  His eyes moved side to side as he thought about his response.  He didn’t really appear to be thinking about the question so much as his anxiety about having been asked a direct question in a group. 

“I don’t know” he said, obviously embarrassed.  “I’ve never taken it.”

Kit nodded.  This was his team and he’d have to make the best of it.  They would do fine but he had to know how to best use each member in his party.  Cliff was rock solid and would be useful.  James seemed competent and had already surprised him.  Ben could take and order and Carl—well, Carl he might have to coddle a little.

The small group continued tinkering with straps and gear as they finished preparations.  He checked his own gear as he made quick plans in his head.

“You two,” he said, pointing to Ben and Carl.  “We watch from atop the school bus while these two warm up.  Let them get some practice while we cover.  If we are attacked, we hold out long enough for them to get away and then catch up.  Guys, we take the shoulder here between cars until we can’t fit anymore then find another way around.  It won’t be easy so I want these guys to get a feel for riding first.”

Ben noticeably sighed, Kit clapped lightly and everyone took position.  James seated himself, took the weight off the peg and placed it into position as he had been shown.  He put his foot on the starter and kicked hard.

Cliff had already primed it for him so it was a few cold kicks to get it going and then his engine was idling and gaining in volume.  He looked up through his open helmet and nodded at the three above, watching.  Then he eased the clutch and promptly killed the bike.  The three laughed.  James nodded and laughed too.

In less than a half-hour James and Ben we doing circles around each other and making tighter turns.  James was still tense but Ben seemed to have relaxed into the less-difficult task of operating on twice as many wheels.  Ben was spinning a cookie when Kit saw the first one.
 
Kit stood waving to them: “Guys, get going!  Go, go, go!”

Below him, James tensed and tried to slow but overcorrected his turn and dropped the bike.  It fell, pinning his leg to the ground.  He obviously couldn’t see well with the visors inhibiting his peripheral vision and his pinned hip kept him from lifting the bike.
Kit was at his own bike in seconds.  He kicked hard several times before the loud high whine of the two-stroke bike cut through the confusion with a deafening squeal.  There was shouting and the sound of Ben’s quad slowing then speeding off up the road as he had been instructed.
“Get him up!” Kit yelled, pointing to the other two, before releasing the clutch and allowing his back tire dig into the soft dirt.

Kit could ride.  This had been his childhood.  Several years of it at a rich friend’s house who owned a few and let him come often.  He gunned it for the creature almost on top of James now at the top speed he could manage while keeping control of the unfamiliar bike.

He pressed his heel in hard to the ground, using his leg like a peg stand, gritting his teeth, allowing the bike to tip and ride the edges of the wheel where there was less traction.  He pulled the throttle a little harder as his bike swung around and sent a wall of dirt spraying into the oncoming creatures face.

Eat rocks!, he thought as he yelled through the engine’s roar.

Cliff and Carl were to him by the time Kit had circled around, lifting the bike from atop James.  Kit gunned it again toward the body of the human-like creature that was struggling to get to its feet again.  The creature was half up as Kit gained acceleration in a straight line toward the monster, too late for Kit to realize he didn’t have a plan this time.

Two more humanoids had emerged from the wood behind the first and were coming in on James’s position.  Kit glanced quickly at his party; they almost had James up and ready to move.  In the last second Kit pulled in the clutch and kicked the shifter, intending at least to get his front wheel into the creature’s face.  It panicked and jumped out of the way with its arms flailing just in time for Kit to keep his fingers tight and down-shift again to maneuver away.

He weaved between the two new infected, drawing their attention away from James, and circled up on the hillside to lead them off.  Then he heard the lower pitch of the four-stroke starting again.  Soon the two other bikes came to life.  It was time to go.

Cliff had explained to them that James and Ben didn’t need to go very fast.  A human running can’t go much more than ten miles an hour on average and that not for very long.   If they stayed steady and held a good course they would quickly outrun any pursuers.  By the time he reached them he saw that they were holding fine.

In short time they had a system enacted where Cliff and Kit went ahead searching for viable routes. They rode forward, sideways and occasionally backwards to make miles through the maze of cars.  They also cut side roads wherever they could which usually offered a more open shoulder.  This got them ahead much faster than the bulky HUM-V had and the next twenty miles went comparatively fast, at least until they reached Wallace.

The five of them were sweating when they stopped.  There was no easy way forward as they looked up the ascending mountain ahead of them.  They all killed the bikes.

“Nice work boys,” said Kit.

“Oh my God” Ben complained. 

James was collecting himself, but his shoulders were tight and fatigued from long tension.  The other two were grinning like school boys.  Kit smiled too.

“Drink water, everybody.  Carl, on watch.  James check straps and gear on everyone’s bikes.  Cliff you have that map?”
Everyone did as they were told.  Kit was pleased to see that discipline wouldn’t be an issue on this trip and he could lead by respect.
“Fuck, those things are freaky” said Carl.

“Legs a little long in the saddle?” Cliff asked James.  He was limping.

James sat back on the bike seat and pulled up his pant leg.  They could see the fabric was melted through at the calf.  He peeled the pant back, clenching his jaw as he revealed a swollen red burn patch with a few white bubbles.

“James,” Kit said.

“It’s alright” James replied.  “It’s not too bad.  I barely noticed it until now.”

“That’s a real burn” said Ben.

“Look, it has bubbles” said Cliff, pointing at it with his fingers like a school-boy.

“It’s a second-degree burn” added Ben.

“Hey Cliff, where’d we pack that first aid kit?” asked Kit.

“Your bike, left satchel.”

Kit found the first aid pack and opened it up, finding the tweezers, burn crème and medical tape.  He cut open the remains of the pant leg bottom and peeled it back.  He carefully began treating the wound. 

He wasn’t well trained in first aid or at least he didn’t remember much from early courses in his training.  But he had to move confidently to earn the trust of his men.  What was the acronym for what to do first in an emergency like this?  S.T.O.P.?  What did that stand for?  He couldn’t remember, so settled for what-would-Mom-do?

“I’ll put you on night shift tonight.  You may not sleep well with this.”  James nodded back without showing discouragement.  “You’ll be alright.”

“I didn’t realize it was so bad.”

“This will heal up alright.  You might have a little bit of scarring around the bad part for a while.”  Kit didn’t know if what he was saying were true but it seemed as likely as not.

When Kit finished, Cliff had the map in hand studying it.  Kit joined him as he packed the medical supplies back into the bag they had come from.

“Well we could try to take the Highway Four North.”

“Is there any reason to believe it’s going to be any better than the Interstate?”

“Not really.  But there’s actually a trail up here called the North Pacific Trail.  Looks like a bicycle path or something over the pass.”

“You want us to ride bicycles over the pass?”

“No, no.  But we should fit with what we have.”

Kit chuckled.  “Where does it start?”

“I dunno.  Somewhere after Mullan near the ski resort here.”

Kit chewed his thoughts for a moment.  “Alright, we follow you.”

Cliff nodded, seeming please with the responsibility.  That’s good, thought Kit, let them all share responsibility, even a little authority.”

“I say we camp at the top tonight if we can find somewhere safe.  Let’s get a fresh start from the top.”

He watched the demeanor of more tired members of the group visibly relax and that sealed the decision in his mind.  It was the right thing to do.
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mako
**
Posts: 89



« Reply #65 on: November 15, 2017, 10:28:38 PM »

Parked cars bled onto the walking path near the summit as if they had burst like a hernia through the tree line.  Kit and the others were forced to ride the steep grassy ski slopes southeast to the top of the resort, then back northeast to the main lodge.  Deep wheel ruts indicated that some trucks had done the same.

The top of the pass was a battle zone.  There were a mess of barricades: parked vehicles, cement dividers, trenches and even sandbags in places.  There were signs of a small war all around them.  Decrepit bodies littered the field.

As they approached, the joints of skeletal remains glistened in the blood red light of dusk through the smoke of distant fires; the remaining muscular flesh was black and curled in on itself in a way that reminded Kit of salted dry meats.  The stench was awful.

The entire pass had been sealed off by defenders to prevent infections from spreading east into Montana.  It hadn’t worked, just as it hadn’t at the Idaho border where Kit had been stationed during the outbreak.

Near the top, the skirmish zone showed area of struggle and even a few detonations.  Abandoned vehicles were pock-marked with bullet holes, including one overturned car the advancing parties had obviously used for cover.  They circled a few times taking it in.

The gruesome scene in front of him brought Kit flashbacks of their short entrenchment trying to prevent traffic east.  Scenes of confusion as scattered and conflicting commands came down the pipeline too unready for such a crisis. They had been horribly outnumbered by traveling mobs of people willing to cut off road, cut down fences, cross pastures and otherwise avoid the outnumbered and overwhelmed forces of the National Guard.  It had happened so fast. 

He shook his head clear.

Finally, Kit circled one arm over his head and pointed a flat hand back south toward the top of the ski lifts.  They parked near a small ski patrol hut and killed the bikes.  The high mountain sloped around them seemed eerie quiet compounded by the long roar of engines in their ears and few words were spoken as they dismounted and took to drinking water and unsaddling gear.

Kit unstrapped an empty gas can from the back of his bike and handed it to Carl.

“Cliff and Carl, fill gas.”  Kit was surprised at how soft and quiet the words came out of his mouth.   No one responded and Cliff took the can, strapped it to the tail of Carl’s ATV, and they were off.

Kit, James and Ben armed themselves to look for a place to sleep.  The City Center had allowed Kit to take one firearm on his mission.  He had chosen a semi-automatic M16, in hopes that it would be easiest for anyone in his party to use.  He unstrapped rifle and moved the collapsible butt stock into place, casting the strap over his shoulder, then slid in a cartridge.  He prayed not to have to use it this night.

Ben had a baseball bat resting against his bike as he strapped a few hockey guards over his wrists and shins as Kit has taught him to do.  He then wrapped a long, thin multicolored scarf over his face until he looked like some sort of Taliban sports teamster.  Kit suppressed a smile at the look of Ben’s curly blond hair and adolescent eyes poking out over the odd getup.  James merely took up a long iron bar and looked confident and ready.

Kit pointed to James and then spun his finger around his own face, pointed to Ben for example, then shrugged his shoulders as if to ask a question.  James squinted in thought and then shrugged.  Kit dug for another scarf from his bag and tried to hand it to him.   James politely bowed his head, offering it back.  Kit offered again and James refused. 

Kit didn’t fight it.  The kid had obviously taken care of himself long enough to have been alive today and it didn’t seem worth having a confrontation over.  He needed to save his battles and he could cover James well enough up here in the open.  He gave James a single nod and wrapped it around his own mouth.

The cabin would have been an obvious choice if Kit did not expect it either to be occupied or at least infected. James and Ben naturally followed him towards it with weapons ready.  Kit raised the rifle, checked the chamber, played with the safety and brushed the curve of the trigger with his finger.

If he used the firearm, he knew, they were in trouble.  Something about loud, sudden noises did more to aggravate the infected than almost anything else.  And the sound of a shot carried far—up here, very far.  The fire-arm, as always, was a weapon of absolute last necessity against a horde.  The survivors had learned that fast.  It was crankbait for problems.

They approached the door carefully to clear the building.  His firearm had a small LED torch flashlight near the front activated by a remote switch.  He turned it on as he swung the tip of the rifle through the door staying covered.  Suddenly the sound of loud movement erupted from inside as if something large were trying frantically to get away.  Then, there was the sound of something landing outside as if it had gone through a window, and then a second and a third.

James moved spontaneously to the edge of the building to cover their rear.  Ben stood ready with the bat in hand.  James tapped Ben to get Kit’s attention and then waved Kit over.  By the time he reached James only the backside of two figures remained in view, dashing away through the trees.  Kit’s was sure his heart could be seen beating in his chest.

“Let’s not sleep there tonight” Ben said in a tone that was almost a question.

“Yeah” Kit replied.

The small sheds were as likely ways to be a way of trapping themselves in during the night.  The sun was setting over the hills and they needed to find someplace soon.  But where could they go?  The ski lodge was almost certainly a worse place to be.  They could get into a car somewhere and lock the doors or—

He was looking at the setting sun when James tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to the top of the ski lift.
“We might be able to find sleep up there” he replied.

Kit felt surprised.  “On those chairs?”

“No” James replied.  “Follow me.”

Kit tried to remind himself that he had already decided to share responsibility around the group.  He could play nice and not get upset about not leading every turn of their adventure.  And sure enough, James’s idea was sound.  A small ladder led up the side of the ski lift and gave them access to the large iron wheel that pulled the cable for the ski lift and better still, there was room to sleep up top.

“We’ll have to sleep three and two on each of these lifts to have enough room,” Kit said when they were all three up and feeling satisfied with the decision.  “Cliff and Ben can take this one.  James and Carl sleep with me.  We’ll take sleep shifts.”

Cliff and Carl soon returned with the gas and filled up tanks for their morning ride.  Kit gave the orders and everyone unstrapped and made for sleep.  They were quick to get and away from the forest floor.

The darkness seemed to settle in slowly and the sleeping bags were too warm to use yet except to keep them off the iron wheel.  It was uncomfortable and cramped but better than risking their lives.  He gave James first watch and tried to sleep.

There were sounds in the woods; unmistakable movements as night enveloped them.  Kit had ordered no lights or sound to attract attention.  He hoped nothing had seen them come but that seemed a hopeful fantasy to him then.  They heard the sounds of rummaging near the bikes but everything of value was suspended with them.  We’ll need to disinfect the bikes in the morning, he thought as he finally began settling into sleep.

He woke suddenly from his sleep without clear reason why.  He had been asleep—how long?  An hour?  Two?  The waning moon was bright in the clear sky outside and the stars shone around them except where James sat against the center pole of the wheel.  He adjusted his eyes.

No, James wasn’t relaxed.  He was tense.  As if readying himself for something.  Kit quietly turned and grabbed his rifle.  James's eyes remained fixed on the ladder.

Kit brought himself up to a squat and readied himself near it.  The rifle was backward, he realized, but his instincts held him from correcting it.  He readied the butt of the weapon and waited.

Suddenly a hand and then a face appeared over the lip of the platform.  Kit thought fast.  Was it Cliff or Ben?  No, they would have whispered and announced themselves.  And this was not—

Kit slammed the butt of the rifle into the creature’s face.  Its head smacked into the steel wall then made no sound until it hit the ground, then silence.  They both sat in stunned muteness for a number of minutes, listening for the sounds of anything moving in the night.  Finally, there were the sounds of a couple large creatures slinking away into the woods.  Kits felt his heart slow minutes later.

“I’ll take watch now,” he said to James.

“Ok” James replied.

Kit kept watch the rest of the night.
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Dodys
****
Posts: 414


« Reply #66 on: November 16, 2017, 12:48:16 AM »

  Good Stuff,Good reading! The genre shift is what threw me for a loop sometime back,this time around is what I was reading into & for the adventure/survival of the non-infected people,Thanx for that!
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mako
**
Posts: 89



« Reply #67 on: November 16, 2017, 06:54:51 AM »

Glad to hear that Dodys.  That's why feedback is important! 
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mako
**
Posts: 89



« Reply #68 on: November 21, 2017, 07:31:29 PM »

It was not yet daylight when Kit woke James and Carl by crawling to each of them and nudging their shoulders.  James woke instantly as if startled.  Carl took three attempts to pull him from an apparent reverie.  Neither seemed willing to move.  It was cool outside.

He lit one last cigarette as they came to and peeked over the edge.  His sleeping bag was already rolled up and his things were arranged neatly.  True, he could have let them sleep longer as they obviously wanted to.  But he also needed to enforce some discipline before he needed to depend on it with their lives and it was too late to take it back now.  To second guess his judgment was to encourage them to do the same.

It still wasn’t light enough to ride but the colors in the small space of sky open to him told him it would be by the time they were saddled and ready to ride.  Besides, he wanted some cover of night to cover their movements and preparations.  Reluctantly, they rose and packed.  Kit went down the ladder first.

There was neither a body on the ground nor sign of blood.  Had the creature survived?  It seemed impossible, but how could he argue?  They moved to the other lift and Kit whistled just loud enough.  Ben looked down and shone his flashlight on them.

Idiot, Kit thought.  Has he been doing that all night?

Shortly, the five of them were on the bikes.

“Nobody touch the bikes” Kit commanded in a whisper.  “Let me wipe them down for infection.”

The others took to arranging their gear as Kit took alcohol, gloves and cotton cloth from his backpack and began wiping down each of the bikes with a meticulous oversight.  When it was done, they strapped on their bags and prepared to ride.  Kit taped his flashlight to the front of his bike with a piece of duct tape.  It was just light enough to more-or-less safely ride.

They lit up the bikes.

The road out was uncongested.  A flipped truck looked as if it broken the barricade and come through a distance before being taken out.  But their path east of the divide was almost devoid of any vehicles.  No one had wanted to go west.

The morning ride was cold so they stopped half an hour in to warm their fingers and add gloves and layers.  Everyone cupped their cold fingers to their mouths to get blood flowing there again.  Their breath was visible in the light of the sun cast against the peaks of the mountains northward.

They passed bodies and an occasional band of wandering infected.  Sometimes they were asleep against a vehicle or a tree, individually or slumped against each other for warmth.  Other times they stared or ran away as the loud engines cut through.  Only once did one attack but each of them found room to swerve and avoid the furious man in the middle of the road.

They were making good time.  Much better than in days previous.  Kit estimated an average of twenty miles an hour easy going, until they hit the gorge.
Their motorbikes slowed to a stop at the foot of a demolished highway bridge heading inland.  A number of burnt-out cars sat abandoned on the other side at what looked like another choke point in the battle east.  Kit stepped to the end of the road and looked over.

“How about the railroad bridge,” Cliff said.

They all looked over at the precipitous wooden bridge suspended hundreds of feet above a whitewater ravine with steep rock cliffs.
“What, leave the machines and walk over it?” Carl asked.

Kit studied it a moment longer.  “No, we have to ride.”

Carl, Ben and James went wide-eyed and seemed to tense at the idea but Cliff grew a smile.  Silence settled over the group as they stared at the terrifying drop before them.  Kit was the first to turn and return to his bike, followed by Cliff and then slowly the others.

They rounded back a ways to position the bikes over the tracks.  James carefully pulled his wheels over the iron rails one at a time with the kickstand down.  Then the five of them sat there in a line for a moment.  Kit checked behind them one last time before putting his helmet on.

“Drive in a straight line.  Ride fast enough to keep your momentum over the ties but not too fast that you lose control.  Don’t look down.  Look ahead.  Push yourself back on the seat to keep weight off the front tire.  Whatever you do, don’t stop.”

He made eye contact with each of them.  The order was to be himself first, Ben, Carl, James and then Cliff behind.  He put on his helmet and dropped the visor, then readied himself and kicked the bike to life.  With little hesitation, he took off.

The four of them watched Kit’s bike bounce and buck as he rode down the tracks.  Cold terror seemed upon them, but none so much as James.  When Kit was halfway across, Ben started his four-wheeler and took off carefully down the tracks with much greater stability.  Carl swore and started his bike and was behind.  Then it was James’s turn.
Cliff could see James’s arms shaking as he started the bike.  He had to kick twice to get his bike alive.  Cliff walked up and slapped James on the butt and put his head to his helmet.

“Relax and go steady.  You’ll be fine.  Just keep your eyes ahead of you.”

James nodded once, set back his kickstand, took a few breaths and began.  Kit was now watching from the other side and he felt his heart flip as James began.
 
I should have put James on the back of a four-wheeler, he thought. 

The trip had been truly breath-taking and frightening.  Once he had ventured a look to the side and it had almost cost him everything.  He had struggled not to overcorrect near the end of the bridge and launched his tire up onto the rail for only a second before he recovered.  He imagined trying to land into a horizontal ladder of hard railroad ties.  His breath seemed held more for James now than for even himself.

James kept a steady course at a steady pace with no side coursing.  He was tight and tense; Kit could see it from here.  Sit back more, Kit thought to himself.  Sit back, James.  A sick feeling was all over his guts for the fatality that would be on his head if James lost the bike now.  His hands were clenched in cold sweat until James was across.  He did, finally, make it across.

Cliff was already over the drop by the time James crossed to safety nearby.  He rode confidently over the tracks as if showing just how carefree he was about this.  James killed the bike and starting lifting it over the rail.  He was obviously tense and nervous and nearly fumbling it over.  Kit ran over to him to help.

He wanted to tell James I’m sorry but it came out “good job” after they had parked his bike off the tracks.  James breathed out and said thank you and seemed to be recovering.  Kit patted him on the back, not knowing what else to do.  Then Cliff was across safe.  They took lunch, re-saddled, and were on the road again in half an hour.

Kit spent his time riding thinking deeply about the event.  He almost felt it had been more nerve-racking for him watching James make the crossing than it had been for him.  But no.  James had been nearly all spent at lunch.  He recovered fast.

They passed more burnt forest, stretching for miles on both sides of the highway.  Thousands of acres of destroyed forests and black soot undulated away in every direction.  A pair of wandering infected chased them from afar in an almost laughable attempt.  They had looked like survivors at first but the telltale gait and odd stares gave them away before they were close.  They pressed on.

They stopped at a gas station with its front windows still intact, hoping to find some goods inside.  They parked and Kit set Ben on watch.  They relaxed and stretched a moment before going for food and drinks in their packs.

“Just put this tube to your mouth and suck until the gas comes out” Cliff was telling Carl.  “It’s not hard, you just have to keep it lower than the gas tank and it will siphon.”

“What if I get it in my mouth?”

“You probably will.  Spit it out.”

Kit looked at Cliff with a suspicious appraisal.  Cliff grinned back and watched Carl prepare before interrupting him at the last moment.

“I’m kidding,” he finally said.  “We have a siphon for this.  You don’t have to do it that way.”

Carl looked up at him in relief before his face changed to shock, then anger. 

“You think that’s funny?”

“Dude, I wasn’t going to let you do it.”

“You want me to suck gas in front of everyone and look like an idiot because I don’t know how to steal gasoline from other people’s cars?  What are you, some sort of past criminal?  Now I’m nervous to ride with you.  Thanks.”

Carl kicked the car and started walking away.  Cliff started towards him with his arms outstretched:

“Dude, I’m so—”

“I’m not Dude.  My name is Carl.  Leave me alone.”

Kit put a hand up to motion Cliff to let Carl go.  Carl walked off a distance alone and sat down just within sight.

“I didn’t mean to—”

“I know.  Just let it go.  He’s been through a lot.”

“I was just—”

“Just give him some time,” Kit replied.

The group was silent as Kit returned to his bike for his firearm.

“Cliff and James with me to go look inside.  Ben, keep watch.  And try to keep an eye on him.”

Ben nodded.  Carl’s outline betrayed suppressed sobs in the distance.

The three prepared and worked their way around the back of the building, approaching as they had done the night before at the ski lodge.  The door was ajar.

“The door’s open so it’s probably been looted.  Is it worth checking?”

“If there’s beer in there it’s worth it.” Cliff replied.

Kit managed a small smile.  “Beer, indeed.”
Kit knocked loudly against the metal door with the butt of his rifle and listened.  No sound.  They waited a moment and went inside, Cliff first.  As expected, the building was gutted clean but they searched well anyway and found a can of beans lodged between the supply islands and Cliff somehow sniffed out a single aluminum can of beer stuck in the rear refrigerator.

“This will be hard to share around” he said.

The manager’s office was locked which excited them all.  James knocked on the door and heard no sound.  They searched for a key but could not find it.  Finally, Kit tried to kick in the door with his boot.  It didn’t budge.  He tried again, kicking harder.  The three of them traded off until the door finally buckled and the lock gave way to the body of a dead man slumped against the wall inside.

The stench him them like a wall.

“Oh, god” cliff said.  The three of them put their shirts up and moved away, panting.

“Kicking in a door seems a lot easier in the movies” said James, coughing through his shirt.

“We’re sure this isn’t airborne right?”

“Yes, we’re sure” replied Kit, wincing, in a tone that was almost a reprimand.

There was an empty revolver on the ground near the man’s hand and the gruesome scene spoke for itself.  Kit moved inside to find cases of beer and provisions piled against the wall.

“This is just sad” said Cliff.

They carefully removed supplies from the room until they were satisfied, using gloves for everything they handled.  Kit showed them how they were to be removed and each was thrown aside.  Then they carefully wiped each can to sterilize it and arranged the supplies with a spare bags Ben had folded away.  It was strapped to the back of his ATV and one was opened for each of them.

Kit walked over to Carl with a beer.   His eyes were red and swollen and he sat motionless.  He bumped him on the shoulder with it.
“We found some beer.  Do you drink?”

“Yes, I drink” Carl said, almost in disbelief.  Then he took the can and opened it like a man long separated from a precious personal keepsake.

“Yes, I drink” he said again.  “Oh god, yes.”

They were packed and ready soon but Kit held them up before they left.

“We will be passing a few larger towns soon and then Missoula.   We will signal at each on and wait an hour.  The populations are bigger there so we need to be ready to move and work together.  I need to rely on each of you for that.”  He held the silence for a moment as he spoke to them, looking each man in the eye.  Finally, he rested his eyes on Carl and then Cliff.

“If you go on with us from here—you two shake hands.”

To his surprise, the two did so almost without hesitation and without reservation.  Kit breathed in a sigh of relief and nodded approval.
“I’m sorry” Cliff said.

“Apology accepted” Carl replied.

Then they saddled their gear and Carl wiped one last tear from his eye.  They took off east, toward Missoula.
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Dodys
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Posts: 414


« Reply #69 on: November 24, 2017, 11:42:20 PM »

  Got some more important feedback for you......Damn! That's good!!! Wink
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mako
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Posts: 89



« Reply #70 on: December 01, 2017, 09:37:14 PM »

Awhile later, the wind whipped leaves in their wake as they passed.  Their presence on the blacktop seemed unnatural with traffic absent to make them disappear.  The hills were pregnant with autumn air and all was still except for passing bikes weaving between occasional stranded cars.

They were on a particularly open stretch of highway with open fields to both sides.  Without signal, Kit shot ahead, standing on his pegs, until he had some distance on the others then turned right off the embankment into the open field.  He rode fifty or so yards and turned again, facing the highway.  He stopped and put his foot down for a moment.

Then he opened the throttle in a straight line toward the highway.  He hit the ramp and his wheels lifted several feet off the ground before he landed again, back tire first, having cleared nearly an entire lane.  Then he slowed in the median and turned around to face the others.   He pulled off his helmet and could be seen grinning as the others slowed to a stop.

Cliff took the bait and peeled off from the rest of the group as Kit had done and launched himself a bit recklessly along the same path.  He landed slightly unsteady but with half his bike over the dotted yellow lines of the pavement.  Kit strapped his helmet back on and took off again to accept the challenge.  The other three watched.

He went farther out approached the interstate at a faster speed.  His engine whined high as he neared his landing with is front wheel nearing the far painted lane line.  Cliff took began his next assault on the improvised jump ramp.   His back wheel nearly touched the dotted yellows.

The two stopped next to each other and gave each other high fives.  They yelled to each other as they took off their helmets, and then cheered toward the rest of their entourage.  Carl was next in line to take off to the surprise of the others.  He hit the ramp with less vigor than the two bikers but managed to get both wheels off the ground.  As he circled around they heard him shouting through his helmet in triumph.  Kit and Cliff were soon back at it and aiming for higher and higher clearance.

Kit finally cleared the entire road from ramp to ramp of the embankment in one smooth clearance.   Everyone cheered him loudly and he let a fist loose to hold it in the air for a moment as a circled around and beat his chest once.  Even James tried the jump with enough caution to maintain his seat, without clearing the tires the first time.  After several attempts, he gained half a foot.

Finally, they circled around once more to take off again.
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mako
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Posts: 89



« Reply #71 on: December 25, 2017, 10:49:00 PM »

They arrived at the outskirts of St. Regis, Montana around three in the afternoon.  Kit was anxious for wanting to be closer to Missoula by nightfall.  His mind kept wandering to the rails running parallel to the interstate and to what they would find in there.

Judging from what they had already seen, he felt hope slipping for locating survivors.  His feet and fists tensed as he thought of how it would look to return without more lives in tow.  He shook the thought away.  They would find more.

But he realized he had been daydreaming about a loading entire freights of people onto box cars and somehow learning how to conduct a train engine west over the pass.  He laughed at himself for such a grandiose fantasy and let it slip away.  They would be lucky to find survivors at all now.

The highway so far had been sparsely dotted with visages of the infected, the ghostly remains of former human lives along battered remains of mountain small towns.  Their faces haunted him with a foreboding of what was ahead.  If Missoula and its people were gone—

His eyes strained ahead and then his whole body tensed.  Ahead of them movement filled the streets and interstate of the largest town they had passed since crossing the summit.  Kit came hard to a stop.  The others swerved and nearly collided into each other behind him trying to stop.  He was already digging into the bags for a pair of binoculars by the time they had.

“Look at that,” Kit mummed.

Cliff spit a lip of tobacco before taking the binoculars from Kit’s hands.  He put them to his eyes.

“That doesn’t look good,” he said.

“We can’t get through on these bikes”

“What is it?” asked Carl through his helmet as he struggled to undo the chin strap

“Degenerates.”

“And a damn lot of them” Cliff said.
   
“How many?” asked Carl after finally getting his helmet off.

“It’s not a number” replied Cliff before handing them off to Carl.  “See for yourself.”

“We can’t get through this way.  We need—“

“Look right!” James said.  A pair of malicious looking figures were crawling over the guardrail toward them.

“Saddle up!” Kit commanded.  The engines started one by one.  Carl was still fumbling with his helmet strap when Kit circled once to face west.  “Forget the strap!” he yelled.  Carl quit and started his own bike.

After they had cleared the danger, Kit routed them down a dirt side road lines with homes and cabins.  They road for some time before Kit stopped, took off his helmet and pointed to a steel garage.

“Hundred dollars there’s a truck inside.”

“Money’s not worth anything” Ben observed.

“Then you won’t lose anything.”

“Yes, so I guess that’s safe for me.   But another two hundred to guess the color and I’ll bet against you.”

Kit looked on for a moment, thinking.

“White.”

“Alright.  Three hundred against you.”

“Hey, I want in on this.  Let’s bet for beer.”

“Two six-packs there’s a white truck inside,” Kit said confidently.

“Deal.”

“Anyone else?”

The party rested their bikes and Kit set Carl on watch while he and the others tried to break in the door.  After a few attempts he returned with a heavy rock and threw it at the doorknob.  He sat back with his hands on his knees for a moment and noticed the security camera above the door and made a face at it.  Somehow it boosted his confidence in the bet and he grabbed the rock again.  After a couple more blows, the handle broke off and the door cracked open.  They pushed it open and walked inside.

They walked past dusty drawers of tools illuminated by light from behind them.  The paint of a large diesel truck reflected white to their right. 

“Good guess,” said Ben.

Cliff cussed, then reluctantly went to it and ran his hand along the metal.  “Still, beautiful.”

“This will do” Kit said.

The king cab truck had a large reservoir for extra diesel fuel in a silver steel compartment behind the rear seat windows.  It was clean, with enough seats for the party inside.  There was a towing package and a large snow plow with large headlamps detached in the corner of the room.

“Let’s bring her outside.  We’ll park the bikes inside and try to lock it up somehow.   Let’s get the plow attached and get going.”

The boys tensed with excitement.

“We’ll need a key” noted James.

“Search for it.”

They went to work doing as Kit instructed.  No key was found inside the vehicle so they searched the wheel wells, tongue and underside for spares.  Finally Kit ordered Ben to join him in searching the house.

“Get our gear loaded in the truck,” he said to the others.  “Move this stuff and bring the bikes inside if you can.  Be ready to hold the door if we come running.  Find a way to lock it if you can.  I’d rather be locked in here tonight than most anywhere else.  Otherwise, be ready to go.”

They nodded and Kit left with Ben to survey the house.  The door was broken in and they prepared to enter quietly, his AR-15 at the ready.  Ben held the baseball bat behind him.
“Something comes out” he whispered, “try to hit it first.  I’ll shoot only if necessary.”

They entered the door and cleared the first room.  Kit moved past the littered kitchen toward the living room, gun point first.  A broken piece of glass crunched beneath his boot.  A sudden rustling in the room made his gut clench as he peeked around the corner.  Then he flattened himself against the wall and nodded from Ben to the living room as the sound of aggressive movement approached.  Ben readied himself in an awkward stance and swung as soon as it was in sight.  Kit had to move to dodge the blow that sent the humanoid figure slamming into the corner of the wall.  He held back as Ben delivered a final blow and then swung around Ben to look for others.

Steps above them indicated at least two more scrambling after hearing the noise.  They made guttural sounds as if communicating to the now dead corpse at their feet.  Ben looked at him with eyes fully alert, seeking a command.

“Can you take two?”

Ben only stared back, trying to decide what to say.  Kit canceled that idea and ushered him into the kitchen.  Kit scanned for something useful, slinging the rifle by its strap over his shoulder.  He opened a top drawer a quietly as he could as they listened to the movements upstairs.  Ben offered him a large meat knife from the cutting table.

“No, too much blood” he said, pointed to his exposed face.  He almost grabbed a meat pounding mallet when Ben tugged at his arm.  He shot a glance upward, expecting a confrontation.  Ben pointed to the entrance.  There was no-one there.  Kit looked confused.   Ben pointed more precisely.  There was nothing there.  Then he saw it.  A key rack cut into the kitchen entry-way near the door.

Kit’s eyes softened and he nodded.  There were sounds of footsteps near the stairway upstairs now.  Kit nodded more urgently as if to command Ben to take them all.  Ben leaped without grace to the task of pulling all the keys from their hooks and stuffing them into his pockets.  They nodded to each other and slipped out the door.

Kit urged them all to move faster as they returned.  Ben soon had the key and Kit ordered the large garage door opened.

“It’s electric” said Cliff.

“Doesn’t matter.  Can’t we do it manually?”

“Don’t think so, but James found a small generator, over there.” He pointed.

“Start it as soon as we’re ready.  Have the quads ready to pull inside.  We have to do this fast.  There were more in there.”

Cliff looked at him for a second as if not believing it.  Then the realized what had happened.

“You want to drive?”

“I won, didn’t I?”

“Eh…what, you get the truck too?”

Kit only nodded with a greedy smile.

“I want a turn later.”

“Let’s just get out of here.”

“Right.”

James pulled the generator cord several times without success before Kit ran over to check the prime.  After doing so, he had James try again and it came on.  The door opened slowly.  Kit ran back outside to cover with his AR.  The vehicles switched places, Ben in the driver seat of the truck.  Cliff pushed his shoulder into the broken front door and engaged the deadbolt lock.  He hit the button to close the garage door and jumped outside, hopping over the door-stop sensor as he did.

The two angry creatures emerged from the doorway as Cliff emerged.  Kit dropped to a knee and fired several clean shots into each, center mass.  Each dropped in turn, one wriggling weakly on the ground.  Kit ran around to the driver’s seat and pushed Ben to the center seat between him and Cliff.  The doors were closed and they were off.  All around them the angry denizens of mountain homes began emerging in angry frenzies.
“They hate loud, abrupt noises” Ben pointed out, for the sake of James and Carl.  “That’s why we don’t shoot.”

A screaming woman flung herself from a nearby yard straight into the path of the diesel behemoth.  It hit her body hard, sending it skidding sideways off the plow blades.  The vehicle rocked only mildly as the shocks took up the bump of running over her legs.

Kit shot straight toward St. Regis, but was stopped past the exit ramp by abandoned vehicles in their way.  Tens or hundreds of the homeless and diseased stood agape or sprung toward the vehicle where it braked.  Kit slammed the gears into reverse and backed up to the exit ramp and took it.

The path to the other exit ramp was equally blocked.  Hands slapped against the windows as they turned corners and Kit gunned it from point to point down the city streets, everyone scanning and shouting about openings as they clung to hand-holds inside the vehicle.

Kit shouted: “one at a time!”

James noticed a large man hurdling toward them with a rock in hand, ready to throw it at the windows and then Carl saw it too.  They shouted the warning in unison.  Kit looked over quickly and brought the vehicle skidding sideways to avoid its hitting the glass windows.  Instead it dented the metal beneath the passenger door.

“Not my paint!” he said, putting the vehicle into reverse again to back it into the man.  Having done so, he took off again through the crowded streets seeking a way through.  At last they found it and were back on the interstate heading east toward Missoula, everyone quiet and tense.  Kit visibly breathed out a long breathe when he felt clear.

Darkness was setting in as they passed Superior with much less incident and only a few necessary maneuvers.  The population was certainly increasing as they approached Missoula and now everyone was alert for the final hours of their trip.  At last, at seven o-clock they neared the outskirts of Missoula, several miles the heart of the valley city.

Kit found no words as they neared the dead city without lights, country music playing lightly from the CD deck in the truck.  Each of them looked quietly sober as the wheels rolled towards it.

“This valley used to shine like pearls,” Kit said.  A shiver ran through Ben.

Let’s find a safe place to park and get some rest.”  Kit took an off-ramp and headed high into the hills until he felt they were far enough back that they might not get trouble.  Everyone settled in as best they could to sleep inside the cab of the truck and Kit finally killed all the lights.

“Goodnight” he finally managed to say.  Everyone responded quietly in turn.  Tomorrow they would see Missoula.
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Dodys
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Posts: 414


« Reply #72 on: December 29, 2017, 07:54:53 PM »

  Good Stuff,Thanx for coming back,it's a great story! 
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mako
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Posts: 89



« Reply #73 on: December 30, 2017, 09:22:07 PM »

C11—Zoo Town

They awoke the next morning with the windows fogged over on every side.  Carl had fallen asleep on watch and everyone woke surprised.  No one said anything.  No one needed to.  They were glad all was well. 
Someone finally nudged him awake.

It made little difference.  The windows had fogged quickly from their breathing so that the person on watch had to constantly wipe them down while trying not to wake the others, in order to watch for trouble.  Carl was the only one who had failed this task and had fallen asleep instead on the last shift of the morning.  It required no verbal scorn, and, besides, it hadn’t mattered.

One pair of rummaging hands had found the vehicle overnight, had shuffled along the backside as if searching, had tried the doors and eventually left.  That had been on Ben’s shift. Kit had readied them to leave but had motioned them all still on account of the darkness and fogged windows.  It had worked.  Cliff made enough of a smudge in the condensation to see by the moonlight that it was a woman, of sorts, alone.

When Cliff wiped the front of the windshield clear now, there was another layer of crystalline ice on the outside of the window.

“That frost?”

Kit’s eyes slanted as he thought about what that meant.  He turned the key far enough for the console to light up and rolled down his window just wide enough for a view and Cliff did the same.

“Look’s clear” Kit said.

“Clear on this side too.”

“Carefully.”

One by one they opened their doors and scanned around them.  There was nothing in sight except glittering frost on grass and the tips of evergreen needles glittering in the blue light of dawn.  Kit had them rearrange the interior and scraped the ice from every window.  Then they were off.

The roads were still and comparably clear of human life as they wound back down the dirt road, onto the interstate and into the northwest corner of Missoula.  Cliff was studying a Montana highway map with a magnified layout of the city.

“It looks like there are a number of exits into the city but some are more on the outskirts.  The main part of the city, the downtown area, is where the farthest east exits are.”

“Is that where you want to go to find beer?” Ben asked him.

“Naturally.  I think there are breweries there.”

“I’d like to fire flares” said Kit “from at least two placeswhere people across town can see them.”

“We’re not going in there are we?” asked Carl.

“I don’t intend to.  But let’s try to get the most visibility from two separate exit ramps and wait a half a day at each.”

“Won’t that draw attention to us?” asked Ben.

“That’s the point.  But we will be watching from up on these hills, a ways from where we fire it.”  Kit pointed toward the bag with binoculars in it with his chin.  “Maybe send two of you down to light of the fireworks.”

“Me.  I like fireworks” said Cliff.

“That’s one volunteer.  Another?”

James spoke up: “I’ll go.”

“Good.  We’ll want half a day at each point and pray there are survivors.”

“I hope so” said Cliff.  “It’s a big enough city, there should be some.”

 “Well, James and Carl are proof there could be.”

“There will be” added Carl.

“Yes, let’s pray” chimed Ben, almost with reverence.

Kit looked at Ben, surprised but poker-faced.  Ben looked back without seeming to realize what he had just said.  There was silence for an uncomfortable moment between them until the awkward body language stopped bouncing through the vehicle like a pinball machine.

“I think we could do one here, at the 101 exit and another closer to the downtown area—103 or 104” said Cliff to dispel the tensions.

Kit nodded, relieved: “alright.”

The first signs of the city emerged where the interstate split away from the river and the hills became more densely blotched with clusters of residential homes and spacious yards.  Then there were industrial facilities, a few apartment complexes and finally a number of big name commercial chain stores in the same pattern as elsewhere in the country.  Except now they stuck up from the earth as if the skeletal ribs of a dead civilization.

 The highways was also increasingly covered in abandoned vehicles, trash and even corpses so that soon they were taking side roads again and eventually Kit shot north onto the slopes of the hills themselves.  Thankfully, the boys had taken the opportunity in the garage to gather a few tools, amongst which was a set of large wire cutters.  They were in regular use where they needed to cross fence and move through fields.  Finally, they were a quarter mile above the North Reserve exit, preparing.

“You guys want coffee while we’re down there,” asked Cliff.

Everyone placed their smart-assed orders before he and James left.  Not long after, a loud pop followed by a sizzling sound came from the direction of a bright red vertical streak in the sky.  In short time the two were back faces blush red from the cold.

They watched, with music playing softly and trading binoculars.  There was movement in the streets below them but none of it seemed right.  Now and then one of them would spot something—someone—and point it out, only to be disappointed again.

Kit was feeling especially nervous, struggling to remain still instead of searching every house in the city for signs of life.  He was beginning to doubt himself and the mission, beginning to feel angry with the situation and with his choice to leave on this foolhardy errand. 

What was the point?  What would these men think of him as a leader?  What would the people say back at City Center?  They needed to stay until noon.  That was the plan.  He needed to follow the plan.  Still, the hours wore on until Kit was nearly unable to sit still any longer and the clock showed 1:00.  Only the 1/16th kept him still in his seat and, despite his tensions, could have stayed him there for days, waiting.

I will follow the plan.

“Let’s move on,” Kit finally said.  His voice was calm and certain.

The city grew denser as they moved eastward, traveling high along the north hills until the river close in on the interstate again.  “There are only a few places to cross the river,” Cliff commented as the vehicle bounced over laid-over fence post.

Finally they were over the heart of Missoula, the downtown district, which once had had city lights, traffic, shoppers, and vendors, bar life, music and festivities.  Now the town stood wasting, as if its soul had been cut out, its body fated to decompose over long years.  In the distance, and American flag flew at half-staff from the flag pole of a large bank.

“Let’s do it.” Kit said.

James and Cliff took off to make it happen again.

Damnit, there had better be survivors!  Kit thought.  They all sat still and watched.

There was still no sign of intelligible human life as the last working daylight filtered into progressive shades of blood orange, amber, and maroon and the sun took rest behind the western mountain peaks.  A light rain drizzle began to fall, which only heightened Kit’s anxieties about the coming of winter on the mountain pass, and a failed mission.  He was imagining in every which way what that could mean back at City Center.

“What’s that.”

Their responses were slow from so many cried-wolfs, but Ben persisted.

“Hey guys, check this out.”  He had the binoculars to his face.  “I think I see something.”

He handed them off to Kit and pointed toward the heart of downtown.

“Down there, by the bridge with the banners and the big buildings.  Across the river in the buildings there.”

“I see it.”  Kit’s posture changed noticeably.  “I see it.”

“It’s like, a flashing light.”

“Like a laser pointer.  It looks like a laser pointer.”

“I see it too” added Cliff.

“That’s it.  Those have to be them!” Kit exclaimed.  “We found them.”

The mood in the truck cabin lifted palpably.

“Do we start now?”

“Not in the dark,” replied Kit. 

Carl seemed to relax somewhat.  “Oh good.  I do not want to be out there in the dark.  Not here.”

“We are out there,” Kit replied in an even voice.  “But we’ll go in the morning, before first light.”

“That’s a good idea” added the often quiet James.  “It will be safest then.”

Kit nodded again.  “We need to find the survivors and get them out of here as soon as possible.”

Everyone seemed to agree.
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Dodys
****
Posts: 414


« Reply #74 on: December 31, 2017, 09:52:39 PM »

  Good writing coupled with Good Imagination = Excellent Story!!! Happy New Year!!! 
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