Apocalypse origins, p.18
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       Apocalypse Origins, p.18

           R.A. Neely
 

  ***

  A few days later Byron was behind the inn dressing one of his kills. The sound of a branch breaking caught his attention and he turned around to see Kelly walking towards him with several men behind her. They were all dressed in black fatigues with rifles slung across their backs. There was one figure that stood out though. He was dressed the same as the others but he carried himself differently. The others had this potential threat hanging around them, as if they could explode into violence at any moment. This other guy, he seemed...shifty. Byron wasn't sure if it was the beady eyes or something else but he took an immediate dislike to him.

  "What's going on?" Byron asked as he mentally cursed himself for having put his rifle away earlier. Not that he could do much against the six of them but it would have been comforting nonetheless.

  "These men are looking for someone," Laura explained as she came to stand by him. She leaned against him and he felt something poking his stomach. He shifted and placed his hand on the small of her back and felt one of their handguns. Good girl! It wasn't much but they would at least be able to put up a fight if it came to that.

  "Who are you looking for?" Byron asked. "We've got quite a few campers here and a large group left just this morning."

  "I'm looking for a woman," the pasty man said.

  Byron spread his hands, "You'll have to be more specific. Have you checked the campers?"

  "She is distinctive," the man replied. "It's possible she's been forced to disguise herself to hide from me. Maybe you noticed the man she's traveling with.

  He proceeded to give a detailed description and Byron realized he was talking about Jackson. That meant the woman he was talking about was probably Shirley. So what was this guy? Some sort of jilted lover? A husband? And why look for her with a group of armed men that were clearly some sort of military force? Byron wasn't sure but he felt that the truth sprinkled with some misdirection would best serve here.

  "I think I remember a man like that," Byron said.

  "When did you see him?"

  "He was with that large group I mentioned. I didn't have a conversation with him, I mostly talked to their leader."

  "Do you know which way they went?" he asked, eagerness evident in his voice.

  Byron shrugged, "You've gotta head north to get out of the park. They'd have to go as far as Morton before they could head in another direction."

  The man smiled excitedly. "We're close then! Let's get back on the road. We can probably catch them."

  One of the men nodded and five of them left the area. "I have a few questions," the remaining man said.

  Byron nodded. He realized he would need to stick closer to the truth with this one. The other man was clearly obsessed over Shirley for whatever reason. Byron didn't think he'd be able to fool this one so easily.

  "How big was the group you were talking about?"

  "I'm not sure," Byron replied. "We had dinner with their leader and his inner circle or whatever. I'm not sure how big they were overall."

  "Why were they here?"

  Byron didn't like the way he was being interrogated but he saw little choice. He was a decent shot but he had not doubt that this man was a trained killer. "They were just passing through as far as I could tell. Looking for a place to settle or something like that."

  "Just passing through?  Did they do anything while they were here?" the man casually rested his hand on his sidearm.

  Byron nodded, "their leader said something about a fight a few days back Maybe they were just resting up."

  The man nodded, "What else?"

  "What else?" Byron asked in confusion.

  "You feel threatened from some reason. That's why your woman came to stand next to you with the gun at the small of her back."

  Byron did his best to keep his expression in check but the man's smile showed that he must have failed. "I don't blame you," the man continued. "Armed strangers come into your home, it's common sense to protect yourself. But I think it’s something more."

  "I don't know what you're talking about," Byron replied.

  "Please, don't insult my intelligence. My associate gave you a description. A description you recognized. That tells me that you spent time with that person. Maybe you didn't have a conversation with him as you said, but he was at least nearby."

  Byron hesitated, he didn't want to send harm Greg's way but this wasn't going well.

  "Let me help you," the man said. "You're a nice person and you feel some sort of obligation here. But that's not gonna serve you. I'm not a nice person you see. I don't have a problem killing you and everyone here," the man smiled as Byron's eyes widened in shock.

  "In case you're feeling brave I want you know that by the time you clear that pistol I will have shot your woman. When my men hear the gunshot they'll go and kill everyone else. Do you understand what's at stake here?"

  "How do I know you won't kill us anyway?"

  "You don't," the man said, "but I'll be honest, while I don't mind killing I don't do it if it isn't necessary. Give me what I need and I'll be on my way."

  Byron nodded, "When they showed up we tried to warn them away. Some bandits had set up camp nearby and were demanding our food. Their leader helped us out in exchange for some food."

  "How many bandits were there?" the man asked thoughtfully.

  "Around thirty or so."

  "So this group was large enough, organized enough to take on a group that size. Thank you, you've been helpful." The man turned to leave but then faced them again as if he had thought of something. "You're a hunter. The man I work for may be interested in your services. If someone shows up, your cooperation will be expected." With that said, the man turned and walked away.

  "I don't feel safe here anymore," Kelly said once they were alone.

  "I know," Byron replied, "first the bandits, and now this."

  "What are we going to do?"

  "We'll have to leave," Byron said sadly. This place had been in his family for generations. He hated that it was being lost during his watch.

  Kelly turned and gave him a hug. "I'm sorry. I know how much this place means to you."

  "I'll be alright, our lives are more important."

  "What are we doing?"

  "We'll head north and try to find Greg's group. He needs to be warned about these guys and they're probably our best chance for safety."

  "Alright, we're leaving. What about the campers?"

  Byron frowned, "We'll let them know we're leaving. They can follow or go their own way. Either way, we're leaving."

  Kelly nodded, "Why don't you break the news and I’ll start packing."
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