Apocalypse origins, p.7
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       Apocalypse Origins, p.7

           R.A. Neely
 

  ***

  Greg yawned as light filtered through cracks in the garage door. It was time to go. He nudged Carol awake then rolled down his window. He rapped on the passenger window of James’s van and smiled apologetically when Laura jumped awake. He waited for Laura to roll down her window before speaking.

  "We need to decide what to do," he said. "How are we doing on food?"

  "We have about weeks’ worth between both vehicles," Laura replied.

  "We were gonna look around this morning. Do we stick to that or push on?"

  "Might be more of those guys around," James said. "Definitely some infected around too."

  Greg nodded. "We probably have to assume there are always infected around. Do we risk a fight with those other guys though?"

  "Let's just push on," Carol said. "The ones that got away might be looking for us."

  Laura hung her head. "Sorry, I-"

  "You did good, Laura. We're not cold blooded killers. They backed down when they knew they were outmatched. Maybe we need to hold on to that."

  "What do you mean?" James asked.

  Greg shrugged. "I think we might have to get used to killing if we want to survive. But that doesn't mean we have to do it when it isn't necessary. Sure, life might be a tad easier if we had killed everyone last night but I'm not sure I want to live that way."

  Laura looked up at this. "I'll do what I have to if they come at us again."

  "I know you will," Greg replied, "we all will." Greg took a moment to look at each person in turn. "So we push on then?" At their nod he continued, "Alright, let's get this door open and get out of here then."

  Greg opened his door and made his way around the garage until he reached the switch for the garage door. After hitting it, he made his way back to the suv. The garage door opened to a sunny day that looked like any other day if you ignored the cars abandoned all over the street. The infection had hit hard here. They didn't see when they had drove this way last night but there were bodies everywhere. Greg wondered if the infected had hit while these people were trying to escape. Several infected were heading towards the garage, the noise from it opening must have gained their attention.

  The group quickly left them behind as they pulled out of the garage. They got back on the main road and continued heading north. They were nearly out of town when they noticed a blockade up ahead. "What is that?" Carol asked.

  "Couple of cars. No way around it either, it goes right up to the buildings on each side.'

  "Do we move it?"

  Greg shook his head. "No, I think that was done on purpose which means there might be more of that other group around here somewhere." A shot rang out and clipped the driver side mirror. Carol screamed in surprise.

  "Take that right up ahead!" Greg directed.

  Carol took the turn as more shots rang out. Fortunately, none of them hit. No other shots came there way and Greg breathed a sigh of relief. Seemed like they were safe for the moment. Greg directed Carol to back into an alleyway so they could have a moment to come up with a plan. Once James was in the alley, everyone except for the kids got out.

  "Now what?" Laura asked.

  "There should be another way out of town," Greg said. "Or at least a side road that links up after that barricade."

  "That'll probably be guarded, too," James said.

  "Probably," Greg replied, "but hopefully it'll be a little easier to deal with than the main road."

  "What's the plan then? Carol asked.

  Greg thought for a moment. "James and I will go on foot. We'll ring the cell if we find a clear path. We'll head right out of the alley, that'll take us north."

  Carol pulled Greg into a hug. "Be careful."

  Greg nodded. "You too. Stay in the car. Don't hesitate if they show up."

  "We won't," Laura said. She had a fierce look in her eye. Greg wondered if she regretted letting those guys go last night. It was one thing to talk about how you wanted to live, it was another when that choice started shooting at you. Would they be dealing with this right now if they had killed everyone last night? Greg didn't know the answer to that. Besides, it was possible that this wasn't even the same group so last night might have nothing to do with what was happening right now.

  Greg headed to the end of the alley and looked around. It seemed clear as far as he could tell although someone could be hiding out in one those buildings overlooking the street. Being out in the open was probably a bad idea so Greg decided it would be best to stick to the alleys. They walked for several blocks, moving as quietly as they could. They finally reached a point where they'd have to head back out to the road. Greg headed towards the end of the alley and paused when he heard gunfire.

  "Do you think that's the girls?" he asked turning to James.

  "No," James said shaking his head, "the girls are south of here. That was more to the west." More shots rang out and Greg hoped that James was right.

  Greg reached the end of the alley and saw two cars blocking the road. He couldn't see anyone but that didn't mean that someone wasn't hiding. Two figures came barreling around the corner, a man and a woman. They stopped when they saw the cars blocking the road. The woman bent over as if she was out of breath then they headed towards the cars. They said something to each other but Greg couldn't make it out. Were they on the run? Maybe they were the reason for the gunfire they'd just heard. Greg didn't want to take that chance though. Greg caught James eye and he nodded in response.

  Greg crept up behind the couple until he was just a few yards away. "Don't move," he said as he aimed his gun at their back. Despite his warning, they moved as if they were about to turn around. "I said don't move!"

  They froze and the man spoke out. "We're not with those other guys," he said. "We're running from them."

  "How do you know I'm not with them," Greg asked.

  "Because you didn't shoot us."

  "Maybe you're just stalling for reinforcements."

  "We don't have time for this arguing," the woman said. "Please, let me turn around. I think you might trust me then."

  Greg found himself curious. "Alright. But don't think I won't shoot you. And if by some miracle you manage to get me, my friend will finish you off." James stepped out of the alley and raised his gun in their direction.

  "No tricks," she said.

  "Alright, turn around. Slowly, mind you."

  The woman turned around and Greg frowned when saw her. She seemed familiar but he couldn't quite place how he knew her.

  "Really?" she asked. "I know I'm not at my best but surely you recognize me."

  That voice. Greg realized who was looking at. "Shirley O'Hara?"

  Shirley nodded. "Yes. Can you please stop pointing that gun at us now?"

  Greg nodded and lowered his gun. "Sorry about that. We heard the gunshots and had to be sure."

  "We should move," Jackson said, "those guys were right behind us."

  "We need to get these cars out of the way," James said.

  "I can take care of that," Jackson said. 

  Greg nodded and called Carol on the cell. They arrived just as the guys were moving the last car out of the way. "Could you give us a ride?" Shirley asked.

  Greg thought for a moment. Just because she was Shirley O'Hara didn't mean that he should let his guard down. No doubt they'd been doing what they needed to survive as well so he didn't automatically trust them. But, Shirley did warn the city. That earned them a ride to the next town at least. "Yeah, we'll give you a ride. You'll ride with Carol and I. Shirley, you sit up front." He looked at Jackson and frowned.

  "Jackson," he supplied. "Alright, Jackson and I will ride in back. No offense, but I'll need you to hand over any weapons you have."

  "That's fair," Jackson said, "I'd do the same in your shoes." Shirley handed over her pistol while Jackson handed over his rifle and knife.

  "Alright, let's go," Greg said. They entered the vehicles and were able to catch the main road after the first blockade they'd run into.

/>   "You did us a favor," Greg said. "That second blockade probably would have been guarded if you guys didn't run into them."

  Jackson nodded. "So what do I call you? We didn't do introductions back there."

  "Oh. I suppose we didn't. Greg Lyons."

  "I'm Carol," she supplied from the driver seat.

  "And everyone knows Shirley," Jackson said with a grin.

  Everyone chuckled. "So, where we headed?" Shirley asked.

  "Just to the next town for right now," Greg replied. "We were planning on looking for supplies this morning before we got attacked last night."

  "That was you?" Shirley asked. "We were across the street. I'm so glad you guys made it out."

  "Well, it's a good thing we didn't run into each other last night then. It wasn't fun at all. We spent the rest of the night holed up in a garage." Greg shook his head, remembering.

  "How did you make it out?" Jackson asked.

  "I kept them distracted then ran out the back," Greg said. "Hopped the fence and met them on the next block."

  "Smart," Jackson said with admiration in his voice. "Everyone got out okay?"

  Greg nodded. "Yeah, it was a bad situation. We fought off the guys that attacked and just weren't ready for the infected."

  "Don't know if you can ever be ready for them," Jackson replied.

  They found themselves leaving town at that point and Carol took the ramp to get back on the expressway. There were abandoned cars all over but most people had managed to pull over before leaving their vehicles behind. There were a number of accidents but none that took up the whole road. All in all they had enough space so they could drive at a normal speed. Occasionally, they'd see an infected give chase as they passed by but they were quickly left behind. Greg wondered what had happened here. How did it start? Did someone stop to give someone a hand and it spread from there? Or was someone driving when they came down with the infection and then crashed into someone else?

  He found himself getting drowsy as he watched the fields fly by in the window. He didn't want to sleep though. He more or less felt Shirley was okay but he didn't know about Jackson. He obviously knew how to handle himself. They'd escaped Emerald Falls and probably had to deal with some of the same things his group had faced. Greg didn't want to turn his back on the guy until he got a better feel for him.

  "You can sleep," Jackson said in a low voice, Carol had turned on the radio so their conversation would go unheard. "I'm not out to hurt you." He looked Greg in the eye. "That's why you've been fighting sleep the last few miles right? I saw you dozing off a bit."

  Greg smiled sheepishly. "That obvious, huh?"

  Jackson shrugged. "I don't blame you. You don't know me so you've got no reason to let your guard down. But, you trust Shirley well enough. Maybe some of that trust can extend to me. At least enough that you can go to sleep without worrying about if I'm going to try something."

  "How do we go about that?" Greg asked.

  "I'm her cameraman," he said nodding towards Shirley. "Well, I was anyway. Don't suppose our previous professions matter all that much now. I've worked with her for about five years now. Every time you saw her on location that was me behind the camera."

  Greg nodded. "Fair enough. Tell me, what are your plans? We'll at least give you a ride to the next town. What are you going to do after that?"

  "I want to keep her safe," Jackson said. "That's pretty much it for my plans. I'm kinda starting to think keeping her safe would be a little easier with a group around me, though."

  Greg saw where this conversation was going. "You'd like to join up with us."

  Jackson nodded. "You've got something. Plus, you walked away from that attack last night. You survived not only those other survivors but also got all of your people away from the infected." Jackson shook his head. "And you put your neck on the line to do it. You're not just a random group of people trying to get by...you're like family or something."

  "They are my family," Greg replied. "I've known James and Laura for years, Carol too." Greg thought for a moment. "Giving you a ride is one thing. Shirley earned that much just for making that warning. But joining us? That's a different level of trust. Anyone that joins us, not just you, how do I know I can trust them? I'm literally trusting them with the lives of my family. Are they gonna steal from us? Will they stay or run at the first sign of trouble? If they stay, will they contribute? I have to know I can trust you around my family."

  Jackson nodded. "Trust comes with time, right? I don't know that I can say anything right now that would ease all those concerns. But maybe you can trust us enough to give us a shot."

  Greg thought for a moment. This was something he had to seriously consider. Not just for these two but for anyone else they might meet. Jackson seemed genuine. At the very least, his feelings for Shirley were plain to see. Greg believed Jackson would do whatever he could to keep her safe. Would that extend to the group though? He didn't want to come and trust this guy only to have him leave during a crisis.

  "And if you have to choose between her and the group?"

  "I think being with you is the best way I can keep her safe right now. So long as you're not stupid, keeping the group safe means I'm keeping her safe. So long as you're not stupid we don't have a problem. If you do turn out to be stupid, well it would be stupid of me to stick around, wouldn't it?"

  Greg couldn't really fault that logic. "Fair enough. You understand I might make mistakes along the way?"

  Jackson nodded. "A smart man learns from his mistakes. That's not what I'm talking about. I mean if you continually do stupid things. In that case, I'm better off trying to take care of her on my own."

  Greg nodded. "Alright. I appreciate your honesty. I have to admit, having another guy around would be useful. I hate leaving the girls behind When James and I need to go do something."

  Jackson nodded. "I'm a decent shot and I can hold my own in a fight too. I've also been teaching Shirley a few things. Right now she won't shoot her foot off but she'll get better. Just don't ask her to cook though," he finished with a grin.

  Greg chuckled. There was a story there and he looked forward to learning about it. "So, what's your background? James and I have done krav maga for years. He's cop by the way, so he's got the training from his time on the force as well. We'd also go to the range at least once a month."

  Jackson nodded. "I don't have anything like that. My skill is more...self-taught I guess." At Greg's look he continued, "Might as well get this over with now I guess. I spent some time in prison when I was younger. Did a ten year stint. Don't know how you feel about that."

  "A week ago I might have made a number of assumptions about you. But now? I'm more concerned about how I can use your skills to keep everyone safe. You obviously know how to handle yourself if you survived ten years in prison." Greg thought for a moment. "I don't know that I care about what you were. I care about who you are now."

  Jackson nodded. Greg nodded in turn and was just falling asleep when he heard Carol up front. "Greg," she said. When he didn't respond right away, she turned down the radio and called again.

  "Yeah?" he said waking up. 

  "Ashton is the next exit. Do we stop or keep going?"

  "Stop," he said stretching as far as the confines of the car would allow. "We need supplies."

  Carol nodded and took the exit ramp. Getting into town was slow going due to the cars that were all over the road. A few times, they had to get out and move cars out of the way. Greg realized that this would probably be a regular part of their day as long as they were on the main roads. He mentally added a map to their list of supplies. They could make better time if they didn't have to navigate around wrecks so much.

  Once they made it into town they pulled into the first subdivision they saw and looked for a likely house. It looked like the infection had hit hard here. In addition to the car wreckage which was becoming a common occurrence, there were bodies everywhere. As they got closer Greg could see that some sort of
animal looked to be eating the bodies. As they got even closer, Greg saw that the animals were raccoons. They'd have to watch out for those then. Those things were known for carrying rabies and such if Greg recalled correctly. 

  "Try a few blocks over," Greg instructed, "I don't want to be around all these dead bodies." 

  "Oh those poor people," Shirley commented as Carol drove on.

  The next few blocks showed the same story, wreckage and dead bodies everywhere they could see. Greg was about to tell Carol to leave the subdivision when the last street they tried looked a whole lot better. There was still a good deal of wreckage but they didn't see any bodies in the streets.

  "This looks a lot better," Greg said. "Let's find a house to hole up."

  Carol nodded and drove down the street until they saw a house that looked relatively untouched. It was a two story home with an attached garage, perfect for their use. The group pulled into the driveway and exited the cars. After taking a few moments to stretch he retrieved Shirley's pistol and handed it to Jackson.

  "We'll need to clear the house," Greg said.

  Jackson nodded as he received the weapon. "No problem...and thanks," he finished with a nod."

  "James, stay here with everyone else and we'll get the garage door open."

  James nodded and approached closer so he wouldn't be heard, Jackson was already heading for the front door to wait for Greg. "You trust him?"

  Greg nodded. "We had a good talk during the drive. I think I've got a pretty good read on him."

  "Alright. I'm still gonna keep an eye on him though. I trust your judgment but I'm still gonna keep an eye out."

  "I know you've got my back, James. Wouldn't expect anything less." Greg nodded then headed over to join Jackson at the front door. He didn't see any signs of damage so that was a good sign. That meant no one else had been to this house yet. It didn't mean they'd find anything inside but hopefully they wouldn't run into other survivors. "Can you do anything about that lock?"

  "You think because I spent time in prison I know how to pick locks?"

  Greg chuckled. "No-"

  "I'm just kidding. I don't know how to pick locks though. I figure we kick it open and then barricade with furniture or something once we're inside. I could probably get that bottom lock open with my knife but I wouldn't be able to do anything about that deadbolt."

  Greg looked the door over and saw that he was right. "Alright, let's do it quick then in case the noise draws infected. I'll let the others know what's happening first." Greg returned to the others to let them know about the plan and they got back into the cars so they could be ready to pull into the garage as soon as it was open.

  Greg nodded as he returned to Jackson's side and they took turns kicking the door. It took a few minutes but they eventually got it open. They entered the house cautiously, not sure if something would be waiting to greet them. They found themselves in a short hallway that opened up into a living room. It had a couch and an easy chair that faced a large screen t.v. Greg could see pictures of whoever owned the house on the walls but didn't go to take a closer look.

  The living room led to a dining area and the kitchen was off of that. The kitchen had the usual appliances as well as a door that led to backyard and one that led to what had to be the basement. There was also a door that probably led to the garage. They took the stairs in the dining room to the second floor and made sure that area was clear as well. There was a bathroom and three bedrooms that showed no sign of the owners having left in a hurry.

  "Think they were on vacation or something?" Jackson asked.

  Greg shrugged. "Or at least out for the day. Turns out to be our gain though. Let's go get that garage door open." 

  Greg led the way downstairs and into the garage. He saw a tool rack with various tools like hammers, hedge trimmers, and so on. Greg hit the button to open the garage and shut it as soon as the cars were inside. "All clear," he announced as everyone exited the vehicles.

  "Great," Laura said, "I'll get some lunch started."

  "I'll give you a hand," Carol announced.

  "I'd help, but I'm terrible at cooking," Shirley added.

  Jackson laughed. "Go help anyway. You might learn something."

  Greg chuckled. "Why don't the three of us sit down and think about what supplies we want to look for?"

  At their nod, Greg led the way into the living room and took a seat in the easy chair, James and Jackson sat across from him on the couch. James held out his hand. "I'm James. Greg says he trusts you and I trust his judgment, so welcome to the group."

  Jackson clasped James's hand, "Thanks, I appreciate that."

  James nodded. "Alright, so what are we thinking for supplies? We definitely want to get some gas."

  "What do we need for that?" Greg asked.

  "I think you need a hose and a pump of some kind. You don't want to be trying to suck gas."

  "Alright, we'll make sure we get that done. Gas is one of our higher priorities. I'd like to find a map. I don't want to use the GPS on my phone. Not sure how long we can use that before the power goes out."

  "Where are we headed anyway?" Jackson asked.

  "North, for now," James said. "We've got a c.b radio and have been listening to see if anyone has set up a camp or something."

  "Ah."

  "What's wrong?" Greg asked.

  "Well, Shirley and I were in a shelter for a while and it didn't end well."

  "What happened?" James asked.

  "Well, the problem was that they had too many people and not enough space. That also meant they didn't have enough food to go around. Part of that was the extra people and part was they were expecting the government to come riding to the rescue." Jackson paused, remembering.

  "It got bad pretty quick. After a few days of too little food, people started getting angry. It got to a point where they confronted the people in charge and one of them got knocked out for his trouble. I decided we had to leave the next time a fight broke out. We heard gunshots as we were leaving. I didn't see it, but I'm pretty sure the guards shot the people complaining."

  "That's something to think about," James said.

  Greg nodded. "Maybe we'll rethink that. Mostly, we were trying to get away from Emerald Falls."

  Jackson nodded. "I'm not saying this camp or whatever is a bad idea if it’s out there. Just wanted to give you a heads up about what could happen."

  "No, you're right," Greg replied. "I suppose on some level we were hoping to find someplace where things could get back to normal. But normal doesn't exist anymore, at least not the normal we were used to."

  "What are you thinking?" James asked.

  "I'm thinking Jackson makes a good point. A camp could easily turn out to be just like Jackson experienced given the right pressures. Maybe we should look for something of our own. Maybe find a farm or something like that."

  "That doesn't sound too bad," James replied. 

  Greg nodded. "Something to think about at least." Greg rubbed his chin. "What else should we look for while we're out?"

  "Gas, food," James said, "we need those for sure."

  "What about trade goods?" Jackson asked. 

  "Trade goods?" Greg asked.

  "Yeah, stuff we can use to trade. Assuming of course we find people that don't want to shoot us first."

  Greg chuckled. "What sort of things should we look for?"

  Jackson shrugged. "Whatever we'd normally grab for ourselves I guess. Whatever people are gonna need."

  "That's not a bad idea," James said. "We've still got a bit of space in the van."

  "We can fit a few things in the suv also," Greg said. "Should we find another vehicle?"

  James shrugged. "We could carry more stuff that way but that's another tank to keep full of gas. Not sure if it's worth it at the moment."

  Greg nodded. "Alright, so gas, food, and anything extra we can carry to trade with."

  "Sounds good," James replied.

  "Who should go?" Jackson a
sked. "Might be a good idea for one of us to stay around here."

  "That's true," James said, "I don't like the idea of the girls not having some muscle around."

  "You should take one of the girls along," Greg said. "If we're talking about trade goods, you'll need someone to help carry stuff."

  "Lunch is ready," Laura said stepping into the living room.

  "Thanks, babe," James replied. "We'll head out after lunch." The men headed into the dining room and sat down to a lunch of instant macaroni and cheese. 

  "I know it's not much," Laura said.

  James shrugged. "Food is food. Not like we can be choosers right now."

  "There was some meat in the freezer," Carol said. "We can have something better for dinner later."

  "Maybe I can try my hand at that," Jackson said. He smiled when everyone looked at him. "I know my way around the kitchen a bit."

  "Sounds good to me," Laura said. "I could use a break."

  "Jackson is a great cook," Shirley said. "You're in for a treat."

  "No pressure," Carol said chuckling.

  They were in the middle of their meal with the lights suddenly cut out. Greg chuckled. “Well, we knew that was gonna happen eventually.”

  There was still enough light to see by but so they were able to finish their meal without difficulty. After lunch, James and Jackson headed out to see what they could find. Greg took the time to see what he could do to fortify the house while they were out there. He didn't want a repeat of last night's ordeal. He found a few pieces of plywood in the garage and took some time to cover the first floor windows. It wouldn't hold forever, but it would give them more time to escape if they got attacked again. He was just finishing up with the last window when he heard footsteps behind him.

  "Hi," Shirley said.

  "Hi, Shirley," Greg replied as he finished hammering the last nail in place.

  Shirley waited until he was done before continuing. "I just wanted to thank you for taking us in. I know you had little reason to trust us after last night."

  Greg shrugged. "I admit, it's hard to trust people you don't know right now. But, you did that broadcast. You didn't have to do that."

  Shirley shrugged. "I didn't feel right not getting some kind of warning out."

  Greg nodded. "And that's why I trusted you guys enough to bring you with us. Jackson and I also had a good talk during the drive so we're good."

  "So that's what you guys were whispering about."

  Greg smiled. "I don't know if he's mentioned it to you yet, but he was thinking about sticking around for a while."

  Shirley shook her head. "He hadn't said anything yet but I'd like that. Safety in numbers and all that right? So anything I should know?"

  "We don't have any special rules or anything. Just help out where you can and we'll be fine."

  Shirley nodded and turned to go. "Thanks again," she said with a smile.

  Greg nodded. "No problem. I'm glad to have you guys around." Shirley left and Greg thought about what else they could do to fortify the house. They'd probably have to keep watch from upstairs if they wanted to be able to see anything. That was the downside with boarding up all the windows. Greg decided to take a break and entered one of the bedrooms.

  He sat down on the bed and thought about the conversation he'd had earlier with James and Jackson. He wondered if looking for some sort of refugee camp was still a good idea. If it turned out to be anything like Jackson's experience, going there could be a really bad idea. Besides, did he want to trust their fate to the government at this point? They hadn't seen or heard any sign of governmental authority all week. No helicopters flying overhead, no calvary to the rescue, and nothing but static on the radio. Maybe striking out on their own was for the best. Maybe they could find an isolated spot somewhere where they wouldn't see too much trouble. They hadn't really made a plan on where they were going aside from just getting out of the city. Greg shrugged as he lay down. He wasn't going to solve the problem right now but he'd keep thinking on it.

   

   

   

   

  11 Laramie, Illinois

   

  "Laramie next exit," Greg announced as he drove past the sign. 

  "Think we'll find something here?" Shirley asked from the backseat.

  "Hope so," Greg replied.

  "Me too," Carol said, "its been slim pickings."

  Greg nodded. The group was down to about three days of food. After Ashton they had had little luck scavenging. If they were lucky, they'd discover a can of soup or two, but for the most part they had to use the supplies they had on hand. It also didn't help that a trip that should have taken hours had taken days instead. The roads were horrible, they constantly had to maneuver around wreckage or worse, spend time moving it out the way. Greg was really hoping they could restock their supplies.

  Greg took the exit ramp and they found themselves entering Laramie. There was little sign of the infection here. The streets were clear of wreckage and the buildings seemed to be intact. 

  "Looks pretty good here," Jackson announced.

  "You think the infection missed this place?" Carol asked.

  Greg shrugged. "It's good news for us regardless of how it happened. I'm thinking we should be able to restock here."

  Greg's optimism quickly wilted when he noticed an obstruction ahead. Greg saw that this is where all the wreckage had went. The road was blocked with a minivan and either side of the road was littered with wrecked cars. There was no way to get a car through that unless the car blocking the road was moved. Greg brought the suv to a stop so they could plan their next move.

  "What do you think?" Greg asked.

  "Well, they're not shooting at us so that's a good sign," Jackson said.

  "That's true," Carol said, "maybe they're friendly."

  "We haven't had the best luck with that so far," Greg said. "But you're right, they're not shooting so maybe it's okay. Have you guns ready just in case."

  Greg slowly drove forward and stopped when a figure approached from behind the barricade. As he drew closer Greg could see that he was dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt. There was a rifle slung across his back and knife holstered at his hip. The man walked with his hands spread out as if to indicate he didn't mean any arm. Greg exited the vehicle, making sure to keep his hands well clear of the weapons holstered at his side.

  The man nodded amicably as Greg met him halfway. "How are ya?" he asked. "I'm Hal Dow. I'm in charge of security around here."

  Greg nodded. "Greg Lyons. Nice to meet you."

  "How can I help you, Greg? You just passing through?"

  "Yeah,” Greg replied, "although I wouldn't mind trying to trade for some supplies." Greg sighed internally. So much for this place being the boon they'd hoped for. He had hoped they'd be able to get in, restock, and get out. He had no idea what they could expect to get if they had to trade as they had little to keep themselves going.

  "Trade? Well, that's fantastic," Hal said with a smile. "I'm really glad to hear that. The last group that came through, well we had to send them on their way. Thought they'd take over or some such."

  Greg thought there was little chance of that happening. They seemed to be well organized. "You guys survived the outbreak pretty well then?"

  Hal nodded. "Laramie's a hunting town. Just about everyone has a gun of some sort. When those things showed up we sent 'em packing. We put the wall up right after that and haven't had too much trouble."

  "Wow," Greg replied, "that's impressive. We've been running place to place just trying to survive."

  "Well, if you're looking for a place to call home, this might be it for ya. We did well enough in the outbreak but a lot of people are gone. Most of them commute, you see. So we haven't seen any of them since the outbreak. They're either holed up somewhere or didn't make it."

  "Sorry to hear that," Greg replied.

  Hal shrugged. "It's the world we live in now." He motioned towards the roadbl
ock and a figure came into view. He got inside a vehicle and made an opening large enough for them to drive through. "Let's get you inside. We can do some lunch and talk about that trade you mentioned."

  "Thanks," Greg replied. He returned to his vehicle and led the way past the barricade. He immediately saw why that other group had failed in their takeover. There were maybe a dozen men and women all armed with rifles of some sort. They all seemed to carry their weapons with an easy familiarity that probably meant they knew how to use them. One of the figures directed them to pull over to the side and Greg complied.

  Greg exited the vehicle again as Hal joined him. "We'll have to ask you to leave your firearms in your vehicles," he said. He shrugged apologetically. "You can keep you blades," he said as he noticed the machete on Greg's hip.

  Greg nodded. He wasn't thrilled about having to put the pistol away but he understood. He wouldn't want strangers walking around armed in his town either. He poked his head inside the suv to relay the message and then walked over to give James the news. With that done, Hal led them to a house near the road.

  "This is a visitor center of sorts," Hal announced as he held the door open for them. "Lunch will be up in a few minutes so we can sit in the dining room."

  Hal waited for everyone to get inside and then led the way. The dining room had a long table big enough for all of them sit comfortably. There was a picture window that looked out onto a field where people could be seen working the ground.

  "It'll be a small harvest this year," Hal said as he joined Greg at the window. "It's July so we've already missed most of the growing season."

  Greg nodded. "Looks like you'll be set for next year though."

  Hal nodded. "We are doing pretty well." Hal turned as several women entered the room and began setting food out on the table. Everyone took their seats and Greg smiled as he saw beef and mashed potatoes on his plate.

  Hal chuckled. "Probably been a few days since you guys have had a good meal, huh?"

  "You have no idea," Carol replied.

  "It's canned beef and instant potatoes but we've got a good store of spices so it should still be pretty good."

  "It looks amazing," Carol said.

  "Well, let's dig in," Hal said. "We can do business after we eat."

  The group applied themselves and made quick work of the food. They'd been given large portions so everyone was satisfied when they were done. After that, Hal led them to a building a few blocks away. It looked to be an old hardware store. "This is where we keep most of our stock," Hal explained as he led the way inside. "It's guarded round the clock but we haven't had any trouble. Hal led them over to a middle aged man that was making notations on a clipboard.

  "This is Ryan Barton. He's in charge of our stores. He'll take good care of you. Have someone send for me when you're done and we can set you up with a place for the night. No reason to head back out on the roads at night."

  "Thanks," Greg replied, "I appreciate that."

  "Not a problem. You seem like good people so we've got to stick together. There's plenty of bad people running around. Alright, I'll see you guys in a bit."

  The group spent the next fifteen minutes trying to negotiate with Ryan but were disappointed to find that he had little interest in what they had.

  "I'm sorry," Ryan said, “you don't have that much worth trading except for that ammo. I doubt you wanna part with that, you're gonna need that on the road."

  Greg sighed. "Well we need the supplies, so we'll have to make do."

  "That won't be necessary," a voice said from behind them. The group turned and they saw a middle aged woman dressed in jeans and a button down shirt. She approached for a handshake and Greg held out his hand.

  "Dawn Stamper," she said as they shook hands. "I'm what remains of the administration here in Laramie. That pretty much makes me the mayor I guess."

  "Nice to meet you," Greg replied, "Greg Lyons."

  "I think I might have a way that we can both get something we want out of this deal," Dawn said.

  "What do you have in mind?" Greg asked.

  "Walk with me if you would. I can have one of my assistants find lodgings for your friends."

  Greg glanced at the group and saw that they looked excited at the thought of resting for the remainder of the day. They had gone through a rough few days, the rest would probably do them good. "Alright, lead the way."

  Dawn smiled and led the way out of the hardware store. They kept walking until they reached a fence of sorts. Looking closely, Greg saw that it was a combinations of cars, wood, and sheet metal. Every thirty feet or so there was a platform of sorts that let the man guarding have clear view over anything approaching the fence.

  Dawn chuckled. "Not much to look at but it's kept the infected out so far."

  Greg shrugged. "Doesn't matter how it looks as long as it's getting the job done."

  "You're practical," Dawn said, "I like that. I like to think I'm pretty practical myself. Do you have any idea why I brought you out here, Greg?"

  Greg frowned for a moment in thought. They weren't completely alone Greg thought. From the men on the platforms to the men that appeared to be going about their business, there were plenty of people close enough to protect Dawn if he tried anything. Further, he figured she wouldn't have put herself this close to him if she didn't have some idea of his temperament. That meant she probably listened closely to Hal's recommendations. What could she want though? According to Ryan, they simply didn't have much that the town was interested in. Greg thought some more, they were alone, at least for all intents and purposes. Maybe she needed a favor of some kind. Maybe something she couldn't trust to her men.

  "You need me to do something for you," Greg replied. "Something you can't trust your men with for some reason."

  Dawn smiled. "Hal was right about you. You're quick. I do need something. You see, we're doing pretty well here. My men are doing a great job of keeping the infected at bay and the only group that came through looking for trouble was quickly dealt with. The main problem we have right now is that there's another group on the other side of town. The short version is that we're competing for what resources remain when it would be so much more efficient if we were to join forces."

  "Why do you need me?" Greg asked. "Why not work out some sort of deal?"

  "Look around you, Greg. We're trying to rebuild something here. We've established security so that all of the remaining residents can safely sleep in their beds at night. We're in the process of planting so we'll have a reliable source of food.  That's gonna take time though. To get there, we need all the resources remaining in the town."

  "The other group doesn't want to work something out?"

  "Exactly," Dawn replied. "They'd rather go their own way instead of joining forces and dealing with this crisis together. I don't even know if they're rationing what they have. Properly managed, there should be enough food remaining to see us until harvest next year."

  "What do you want me to do?" Greg asked.

  "Go and talk to them. Maybe they'll listen to reason if it's coming from someone new. I'm afraid communication has broken down to the point that they open fire as soon as one of my people approaches them."

  "That bad?" Greg asked.

  Dawn nodded. "I have nothing but the best in mind. I want to make sure all the food is evenly distributed so we can all survive this."

  "Alright," Greg said, "what if they don't want to listen."

  "Well, you'll be in a position to convince them that joining us is in their best interest. Maybe destroy some of their food supplies."

  "I thought you wanted to keep all the supplies so you could make it to harvest."

  "Well, you wouldn't destroy everything of course. Just enough for them to realize their best chance for survival is in joining with us."

  "Alright. And if I fail? If they don't want to join up?"

  "I'm not trying to force you do anything you're not comfortable with. I look at you and I see a man that has surv
ived for days out there. I'm sure you've had to do some things you never would have done before all this happened. I'm sure that you'd do anything to keep you friends safe, I'm just trying to do the same for my people here. But hey, if you can't go through with it, we'll put you up for that night and you can be on your way in the morning. Without any supplies mind you, we can't give anything away for free."

  Greg nodded. "And if I do this for you?"

  "I'll give your group a week's worth of food. That should be enough to see you through until you find another place you can scavenge for supplies."

  That would be great. A week's worth of food? He didn't really like how easily she talked about destroying food supplies but did he have a choice? They were down to what, three days of food now? How long before they reached a place that was safe enough to scavenge for supplies? 

  "Alright," Greg said, "I'll go talk to them."

  "Great," Dawn said with a smile. "I'd wait 'til morning," she said as she glanced at the sun. "It'll be dark soon and the infected will be out in droves beyond the fence."

  Greg nodded and she led the way back to the hardware store and dropped him off with an aide that took him to where the rest of the group was staying. They'd given them a whole house for their use. If Greg hadn't just talked with Dawn, he'd think it was rather generous. As it was, it was probably part of her plan to get him to do her dirty work.

  Greg entered the living room and saw everyone lounging on the couches. The kids were in the corner playing games on their handhelds.

  "What happened?" Carol asked when she saw him.

  Greg sighed as he took a seat next to Carol. "She wants us to do a favor."

  "What does she want?" Jackson asked.

  "There's another group in town," Greg said, "apparently there's some competition for the resources left. She wants us to convince the other group to join her."

  "What do we get for doing that?" James asked.

  "A week's worth of food."

  "That would be a big help," Laura said.

  Carol nodded. "Definitely."

  "What's the catch?" Shirley asked.  "If that's all she wanted, why'd she have to take you off alone?"

  "If they won't listen, she wants us to persuade them. Destroy some of their supplies and such."

  "Ah," Jackson said, "she wants us to do her dirty work."

  "Why not just do it herself?" Shirley asked.

  "She said communication has broken down. Claims her people get shot at whenever they get close."

  James nodded. "So she thinks a fresh face has a chance to talk to them. And if that fails, well you're already there so you can cause some trouble."

  "And, why put her own people at risk if we'll do it for her?" Jackson added.

  "What happens if we don't do this?" Laura asked.

  "Nothing," Greg replied. "She said they'll let us stay the night and then we'll have to be on our way in the morning. Without any additional supplies of course."

  "There might be another option," Jackson said.

  "What's that?" Greg asked.

  "How many people were with you when you had your talk?"

  "Just us. There were guards nearby I guess, but just the two of us as far the conversation went."

  "Okay," Jackson said, "maybe her people don't know about what she's planning."

  "What do you mean?" Carol asked.

  "Well, we're not dealing with a hardened group of people here. These are just some people that banded together to survive. They know each other, they care what each other thinks. They survived the initial outbreak pretty well so they've never gotten desperate enough to do whatever they need to do to survive. So maybe we can work out a deal with the other group."

  James nodded. "Tell them what she's planning. Maybe they'll be generous and give us enough food to last a few days."

  "Don't they already have an idea?" Laura asked. "If they're shooting whenever her people show up...”

  Jackson shrugged. "She may not have been entirely truthful. Maybe she said what she did to get Greg to see things her way."

  Greg nodded. "Maybe it isn't an issue of the other group refusing to join. Maybe Dawn wants to control them.”

  James nodded. "It's worth checking out. Go in with an open mind."

  "Alright," Greg said, "that's what we'll do. I want us all to go though, I don't think I trust her."

  "That's a good idea," James said, "we can get out of here if something goes wrong."

  The group ended on that note and spent the rest of the night resting. They didn't know what was going to happen tomorrow so they figured they needed to be well rested. Morning came and one of Dawn’s people delivered them a box of oatmeal for breakfast and a map of the city. The area they needed to go to was circled in red. After breakfast, the group headed to their vehicles and drove over. 

  They saw a fenced in area as they approached. Greg stopped a good distance away and they proceeded on foot. "Laramie Mobile Homes," Greg read aloud as they got closer. The mobile home park was completely fenced in. Greg could see that mobile homes were just on the other side of the fence. He quickly figured out they were using these to man the fence as he saw people with rifles spaced every twenty feet or so.

  "They're organized," James announced. "The whole perimeter is guarded. And look around," he said indicating the street around them. "No wreckage anywhere, nothing to hide behind. They'll see anyone coming from a long ways off."

  "Why would they even want to join up?" Jackson asked. "They've got a nice defensible set up here, completely fenced in. They probably don't have as many people to support either."

  "Let's approach slowly," Greg said. "We don't want to make them nervous."

  "Make them nervous?" Carol asked. "What do they have to be nervous about? They're pretty much sitting on a fortress."

  Greg chuckled. "Okay, so maybe I'm a little nervous." He led the way forward and stopped when they were addressed.

  There was an older man standing on the other side of the gate. He looked to be around fifty or so. He was dressed in a pair of camouflage pants and a matching shirt. "You folks picked a bad day to come through Laramie."

  "I'm sorry?" Greg said.

  "I said you picked a bad day to come through. You just landed yourselves in the middle of our little civil war. We'll talk more inside. Have some of your people grab your vehicles."

  Greg found himself confused. This wasn't at all how he thought this meeting would play out. He hadn't expected them to be outright hostile, but he wasn't expecting them to be welcoming either.

  "I can see that your confused," the man continued, "let's get you inside and I'll explain."

  Greg nodded. "Jackson, Shirley, go get the cars, please." They nodded and headed back towards the vehicles. The man retrieved a set of keys form his pocket and unlocked a large padlock. Two more men stepped forward and pushed the gates open so the vehicles would have enough space to get through.

  Once everyone was inside, the gate was closed and the man directed the group to follow him. He led them to an area that had several wooden picnic tables, Greg thought it might be where they had their meals.

  "I'm Richard Fritz," the man said, "you can say I'm the leader of this little band."

  "Greg Lyons," Greg replied as they shook hands. "This is James, Laura, and their kids Maddy and Junior. That's Carol over there and Jackson and Shirley are the ones driving the cars."

  "Nice to meet you all," Richard said. "Why don't we have a seat?" Once everyone was seated he continued, "We've got a few sandwiches left over from breakfast if you guys want any." When they nodded, Richard gestured towards someone nearby and explained what he needed. The group made small talk while they ate and James told the story of how Greg stayed behind when they had to escape the house in Ashton.

  "That's impressive," Richard said in appreciation, "not many would do that."

  Greg shrugged the compliment off and the group continued to make small talk until Greg decided it was time to ask some questions. "So wh
at did you mean about a bad time to come through?"

  "Well you can say we've got a civil war of sorts going on. Dawn wants to have all the town's resources under her control even though there's plenty for both of our groups to have what they need."

  "She did mention something about the resources," Greg said. He decided to take a leap. He didn't trust Dawn at all but Richard seemed pretty honest. "She wanted us to convince you to join her group."

  Richard shook his head, "I'm afraid you've been duped."

  "What do you mean?" Greg asked with a frown.

  "Dawn knows full well you wouldn't have been able to convince us to join her. What'd she offer?"

  "A week's worth of supplies. She wanted us to destroy some of your stock if we couldn't convince you but we had no intention of doing that."

  "Glad to hear it," Richard replied, "not that you would've succeeded mind you. But the thing is, Dawn doesn't really care what you do here. You're a scapegoat."

  "What do you mean?"

  "Dawn's a smart woman. She knows you would've failed. Her offering you that food tells me you guys are probably desperate for supplies so she used that to manipulate you. I'm thinking that she's planning on attacking soon and she can blame whatever happens on you."

  "What?" Greg asked. "Why would she do that?"

  Richard shook his head. "Dawn's surrounded by a good group of people. I'm talking about average folks. They're not gonna stand for outright attacking people for no good reason. I actually know some of those people over there, we used to frequent the same bar before all this started."

  "So she can't do an outright attack because she wouldn't have any support."

  "Exactly. Now, if someone were to come along, say someone that was only gonna be around for a few days. Well, maybe she can blame things on them and get away with it."

  "She would really do that?"

  Richard nodded, "I'd expect her attack to be any day now. She has to do it while you're still here or she'll lose her chance."

  Greg took a moment to look around the table and made a decision. "How can we help?"

  "Help? This isn't your fight. If it wasn't you, she would've convinced someone else to come out here."

  "But it is us and I don't like being used," Greg said angrily.

  "I won't say no to extra help but I want you to know I'm perfectly willing to give you some supplies and send you on your way."

  "The rest of you feel the same way?" Richard asked as he looked around the table.

  "I'm with Greg," James announced. "I don't like the way she used us."

  "I wouldn't feel right knowing she attacked you guys because of us," Laura said.

  Carol, Jackson, and Shirley all nodded their agreement. "See?" Greg asked. "We're helping."

  "Alright then, I'm glad to have you. 

  "Why don't we take a walk around and I can figure out where to put you?"

  Greg nodded. "Sounds good."

  Richard took them on a tour of the trailer park. There wasn't a great deal to see. It was basically a large square enclosed by a wire fence. At regular intervals, there was a trailer home set against the fence which gave the guard on duty a clear line of fire over the fence. Greg had seen this on their way in. The interesting part came when Richard led them to an area that was blocked off by several trailer homes.

  "This is our little 'secret spot'," Richard explained as they approached. The 'secret spot' as Richard referred to it was just a number of trailer homes arranged in a square. Inside they saw an assortment of vehicles in various stages of repair.

  "This is our auto shop," Richard explained. 

  "Why do you have so many cars?" Greg asked.

  "Well, it's not so many as it appears. A number of these are just being used for parts. There were a lot of accidents on the day of the outbreak so not everything is in great condition. Hey, Giovanna!" he called. "Take a break. I want you to meet someone."

  A figure slid out from underneath one of the cars and stood up. She appeared to be Hispanic with black shoulder length hair and was dressed in a pair of overalls. If the oil stains were any indication, she knew her way around a car. She used a sleeve to wipe sweat from her brow which only smeared a bit of oil in its place but she didn't seem to notice. She approached the group while wiping her hands on a rag that she pulled from one of her pockets.

  "Hey there," she said as she reached them. "I'm Gio. Richard insists on using my full name just to irritate me."

  Greg chuckled. "Nice to meet you, Gio," Greg said as he extended his hand.

  Gio shook hands and smiled. "So, what's going on, Richard?"

  "Our friends here have been caught up in Dawn's latest scheme. They're gonna stick around to help out."

  "Great!" Gio said enthusiastically, "could always use a hand around here. Any of you know your way around a car?"

  Greg glanced at Jackson who shook his head. "Afraid not."

  Gio shrugged. "Oh well, didn't hurt to ask. You fill them in on the master plan yet, Richard?"

  Richard chuckled, "I was getting to that, Giovanna."

  Gio rolled her eyes at his use of her full name. "Alright, back to work. These cars won't fix themselves." Gio left the group and was quickly ensconced back under a vehicle.

  "What’s this master plan?" Greg asked.

  "Well, I've been thinking and I don't think we can stay here long term. Eventually, all the easy to grab food will be gone and we'll be stuck trying to farm. I don't see that going too well with Dawn breathing down our necks."

  "You've got a good spot here though," Carol said. 

  Richard nodded. "It's not bad, but it's only good so long as the food and ammo hold out. After that, it becomes a trap."

  "What's the plan then?" Jackson asked.

  Richard nodded towards Gio. "I want to get out of here. Gio is working on getting enough vehicles working. Should be done in the next few days. Then we leave and Dawn can have this place."

  "Where will you go?" Greg asked "We've got a similar plan I guess. We were just getting away from Emerald Falls but we really don't have an end destination in mind."

  "I'm thinking the outbreak has made a lot of prime real estate available. Plus, there's no government authority to say what belongs to whom. I figure we find an isolated spot and try to build something of our own."

  "That doesn't sound like a bad idea," Greg replied.

  "It's a great idea," Richard said with a smile. "We hit the hardware store the other day. Got seeds, you know, tomato, cucumber, corn, and so on. Bunch of stuff that should grow pretty well. Also got a few loads of lumber and such so we can do repairs when we find a place. Don't know what condition it'll be in."

  "Sounds like you thought of everything," Carol said.

  "Probably not," Richard said with a chuckle, "but it's a start. Staying here just isn't gonna work. Dawn isn't gonna leave us alone and she might eventually convince enough people to come after us in force. Don't get me wrong, if a bandit comes through I've no trouble giving them some bullets. But I'm not ready to start shooting people I've known for years."

  "That's understandable," Greg replied. 

  "This is where I want you to be, Greg. I want you to make sure my people make it out here if things go south. You strike me as a good man, Greg. You staying to fight even though I gave you an out, which says a lot about you. You've also been out there, surviving. We've been doing fine here but we have no idea how things are out on the road. If something happens to me, I want you to take over."

  "What? I don't even know these people," Greg protested. "Why would they listen to me?"

  "Because I'll tell them to," Richard replied with a smile. "I'll bring you around to meet everyone and we should still be okay for a day or two. Plenty of time for them to get to know you."

  "Aren't there other men more suitable?" Greg asked. "I'm just getting here. If I pass over a bunch of people, that's gotta cause some problems."

  "It'll be fine," Richard said. "These people need leadership. If I hadn'
t organized them, most would still be huddling in their trailer homes. Right now, they don't care who leads so long as someone is doing it. They just want to be safe."

  Greg sighed as he thought. What did he know about leading a group of people? It was one thing to take care of his family, but this? This was way too much. He looked up as Richard placed a hand on his shoulder.

  "You stayed behind fighting off the infected while your people got themselves to safety. That's what a leader does. You've already got the instincts for it."

  "That was different," Greg protested. "They're family. I did it without thinking."

  "That's all this is," Richard replied. "Family, just a little bit bigger, that's all. 

  "Just bigger, huh?" Greg asked.

  Richard nodded. "Let's go for a walk. I'll introduce you to some of the guys." Richard looked at the rest of the group, "You guys are welcome to relax for a bit. Maybe lend a hand if you see someone that needs help with something. Gio could use a hand if you can manage not to annoy her. She's chased everyone else away so far. Says she works faster alone." 

  The group dispersed and Richard took Greg on a more personalized tour of the trailer park. This time around they stopped to speak with the people they passed. Greg was pretty sure he wouldn't remember most of them although a few stood out. There was Justin Oller. He spent most of his time guarding the fence. He'd lost his only daughter the day of the outbreak and was determined that wouldn't happen to anyone else.

  There was also Ricardo. Turns out that he was Gio's son. They found him kicking a ball off the wall of a trailer home and Greg decided he should introduce him to Maddy and Junior when he had the chance. There wasn't a whole lot for the kids to do with the power out so maybe they could entertain each other. After Ricardo, it was a blur of names and faces. There were about thirty men and women that Richard had organized into his little army. 

  The rest of the residents were next. They all seemed like good people, if a bit afraid. It seemed like the only thing holding them together was the force of Richard's will. Greg began to understand when Richard had said they didn't really care who was in charge so long as someone was. Who could blame them though? They were living in a strange situation. Who would have ever imagined that you would have to hide from people carrying a deadly infection? 

  They met as a big group for lunch around noon and Greg sat down and noted that their table seemed to be getting a lot of stares. "Something happen?" he asked.

  Jackson shook his head, "No, it looks like we're celebrities of a sort though."

  "How'd that happen?"

  Jackson shrugged, "A lot of them are impressed that we've been on the road. They were asking a lot of questions when Richard took you off for that meet and greet."

  "How'd that go anyway?" Carol asked.

  "Pretty good I guess," Greg replied. "Can't say that I'll remember anyone's name just yet but it went well."

  "That's good," Laura said. "Everyone is looking forward to getting out of here but there will have to be some changes with this many people."

  James chuckled. "Already organizing things, huh?"

  "Somebody has to," Laura replied.

  "What's the problem?" Greg asked.

  "Well, Richard's done a great job of keeping everyone safe here but I noticed that not everyone is contributing. There's quite a few people just sitting around."

  "What do you think we should do?" Greg asked.

  Laura shrugged, "I don't know, but I think everyone should be doing something. We can't live the way we used to. Richard said we're gonna be attacked soon," she said in a low voice. "What happens then? It doesn't seem right that just a few people fight while everyone else hides."

  "Isn't that what we're used to doing though?" Carol asked. "If you get in trouble, you call the police."

  "Don't think that model is gonna work right now," James said. "Think about the other night. We survived because everyone lent a hand. When we left Ashton, Greg and I cleared the way while you guys drove. Everyone was involved."

  Greg nodded. "That makes sense. Richard thinks the attack is gonna go down any day now though. Don't know if we can change anything by then."

  Laura shrugged, "I'm thinking long term I guess so maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. We have to survive whatever that Dawn woman throws at us."

  Greg shook his head. "You're right, if we're gonna do this we have to make it work. And well I guess we're gonna do this. Stick around I mean."

  "That's fine," Laura said, "it's great even. I think we'll be safer in a bigger group. We just have to organize some things is all."

  "You're right," Greg replied, "I'll bring it up with Richard next time I talk to him."

  After lunch, Greg found Richard and told him some of the things they were talking about. "Those are all great ideas," Richard said when he was finished. "I knew you were the right man for the job. I didn't think of any of those things. Just been focused on getting enough food and keeping the infected out."

  Greg shrugged. "I think you did a fantastic job. Just, we'll have to organize a little different on the road."

  Richard nodded, "You're absolutely right. I knew there was something about you."

  Greg shrugged. "I still feel a little weird about the whole thing but I'm willing to give it a shot. I don't want to see any of these people hurt."

  Richard nodded. "Good man. We can go around after dinner tonight and introduce the changes. Better to do it now so people have an idea of how things are gonna be."

  "Sounds good," Greg said with a nod.

  Greg spend the rest of the day interacting with the residents. He kept some of the guards company as they stood watch and tried to get a sense of who they were. After that he found himself in a trailer that was being used as a daycare for some of the younger children. On his way out, he saw Carol smiling at him and decided he would stay away from there so she wouldn't get any ideas. He mingled here and there, introducing himself to faces he hadn't seen yet and eventually found a quiet corner where he could be by himself for a while.

  This whole thing was really overwhelming. He didn't really feel equipped to lead anyone let alone all of these people that would be depending on him. Who would've thought he'd be in this position? He'd spent the last week running from place to place just trying to stay alive. He was supposed to do that for a whole group now? Laura was right, there would definitely have to be some changes. He shuddered just thinking of how they would provide food for so many people. Richard said they had a good amount stored up, but what happened if that ran out? He'd need to find out exactly how much food they had and long it would last. He could probably put Laura in charge of that. She was good at organizing things like that. 

  They'd probably have to send out scouts or something to look for food every day. What about hunting? The canned stuff lying around would only last for so long. He'd need to ask Richard if anyone knew how to hunt. Hopefully those two things would be enough to keep the group fed. He shook his head. He needed to talk to the rest of the group. This was too much to deal with on his own. He'd probably miss something important. Isn't that what leaders did though? Surround yourself with people who actually knew what they were doing? Even the president had a cabinet right? Greg stood and started to look for the rest of the group. He'd need their advice if they were going to be making changes that were going to affect all of these people. 

  Days passed and Richard began involving Greg in the daily running of the trailer park. They would rise early and determine the guard rotation for the day. While the infected mostly came out at night, there were other threats they had to guard against. Even though Dawn hadn't attacked, Richard insisted that she remained a threat. There were also bandits to be on the lookout for. They hadn't had any problems lately but Richard believed it was the presence on the men on duty that kept them at bay. The next task was to determine the team that would go scavenging. They were doing well food wise but Richard wanted to have a constant flow of supplies if only because they were com
peting with Dawn's group. There were a number of other tasks that Richard handled and Greg quickly realized that he would need to delegate. Trying to handle everything on his own would quickly grow tiresome.

  A week passed and Greg began to feel more comfortable with his future role here. Richard began letting him make the day to day decisions so that he could focus on security. The residents were also growing comfortable with him and frequently nodded or greeted him by name as he passed. A few days into the second week Richard pulled Greg aside.

  "What do you think so far?" Richard asked.

  "It's going pretty well," Greg replied. "We're all starting to fit in here."

  "Laura's been a great help keeping the meals organized."

  Greg chuckled, "Yeah, she's always been queen of the kitchen."

  "What about the others? Haven't had the chance to talk to them really."

  "Carol's been helping me organize some ideas I have and helping Laura otherwise. James and Jackson have been taking shifts on guard duty."

  "That's great," Richard replied, "you guys have been a huge help." He chuckled, "I'm glad Dawn sent you this way."

  Greg smiled, "It's been over a week. Do you still think she's gonna make a move?"

  Richard nodded, "I know it's been quiet but I just don't trust her."

  "What happened?"

  "She's devious and has everyone over there fooled." Richard shook his head remembering, "You wouldn't expect it but she wasn't always like that. She was the village treasurer for years but something changed when the infected showed up."

  "She lose someone?" Greg asked. He knew that trauma could affect people in different ways.

  Richard shrugged, "So what if she did? Who hasn't lost someone? Hell, we lost nearly everyone in this town. Anyone that wasn't here that day is gone."

  Greg nodded, "Fair enough."

  "I don't know what happened to her. Some of my men were hitting the grocery store when she shows up with several of her own guys, all armed. Claimed that she was the legitimate authority in town and my guys had no right to be stealing supplies from the town."

  "What happened then?"

  "Same thing happened with the next group I sent out. Only this time one didn't make it back. We haven't figured out if Dawn had given the order or if one of her guys was just trigger happy. I started sending everyone out armed after that."

  "I think it's just a matter of time," Richard concluded.

  "That's why Gio's work is so important."

  Richard nodded. "I just can't bring myself to fight people that used to be my friends. Maybe that makes me weak, a bad leader but I can't do it."

  Greg shook his head as he thought of the decisions he would be willing to make. "I'd say that makes you human."

  Richard smiled, "Thanks for that."

  "How is Gio coming along?" Greg asked.

  "Good. I think we've got enough vehicles right now if we had to leave in a hurry."

  "Maybe we should start loading now, just in case."

  "That's a good idea. Think we can put Laura on it?"

  "Yeah, she's the best person for the job."

  More time passed and Greg found it easier and easier to fit in. By the time the third week dawned, Greg felt as if they had been in the park for years. Most of the residents greeted him by name as he passed and he felt that taking over the leadership role would work out pretty well. Part of the way he had done this was to help out wherever he could and he directed the others to do the same. This served two purposes in his mind. The first was that there was a lot to do if they were going to get out of here. Gio still had some work to do on the vehicles and she needed help despite her protestations that people just slowed her down. The second was that it gave the group a chance to get to know everyone. If they were gonna be leading the group, Greg felt he should try to establish a relationship with as many people as he could.

   

   

   

  12 Laramie, Trailer Park

   

  Greg began taking different members of the group with him on his rounds as he began to call it. He felt that this was a good way of further introducing the other members so that the people would listen to all of them as a whole. Greg wasn't going to be able to do this alone and he'd need everyone's help. They also began to make a few changes around the trailer park. Jackson had suggested that all the guards should start wearing protective gear. He had noticed that the guards were simply wearing whatever they had on hand, jeans and a t-shirt for example. If a breach happened, the guards should have some sort of protection so they could fight the infected effectively.

  Greg had thought this a great idea and had requested that someone get leather jackets or something of the like the next time they made a supply run. He also requested gloves and few other items that Jackson had requested. This was received well by the guards. It wasn't much but they liked the idea of having additional protection.

  Laura had also made some progress implementing her ideas. One of the first things she did was assign everyone into a work group. Everyone had a task of some sort be it helping prepare food or watching the children. There was some resistance at first but most quickly bowed under the weight of her will. Peer pressure also helped. Most people took their tasks with a degree of enthusiasm. Keeping busy was a great way to keep their minds off the fact that their world had fallen apart. No one wanted to be thought of as someone that didn't contribute to the well-being of the group.

  While Laura organized the people, Carol took to organizing their trip for when they eventually left. Greg had shared with the group his ideas on what they might need on the road and Carol set to making it happen. She determined a rendezvous point for everyone to evacuate to if they had to leave in a hurry and also determined who would make ideal scouts when they were on the road. The last thing she did, was organize an evacuation plan. They would leave in three waves. People were assigned to a certain wave and each wave had several guards as well. She didn't know if matters would play out the way they wanted, but the organization seemed to give everyone peace of mind.

  Greg and James started teaching a crash course in Krav maga.  They weren’t expecting anyone to achieve proficiency on such short notice but they might learn something that could save their life. They taught the guards in the morning and taught a second course in the evening when everyone was done with their chores. Not everyone took it seriously but they welcomed the activity. The electricity was gone after all.

  As time passed there was a definite change in the trailer park. When they'd first arrived, Greg had sensed a desperation of sorts. People were scared and just doing what they could to survive. With the changes his group had implemented, people seemed a little less scared. Having a concrete plan in place seemed to go a long way in easing their fears. 

  They were sitting down to dinner one day discussing their progress when Jackson asked Richard a question.

  "It's been three weeks. Do you still think Dawn is going to come after us?"

  Richard nodded. "It's just a matter of time. We've been making more supply runs the last few days, she isn't gonna accept the competition for resources. You guys deciding to stay probably messed up her plan. Too many people know that you're still here. But I know she's still planning something."

  Greg shrugged. "I'm not complaining. The more time we have to prepare the better."

   The group made small talk after that and went their separate ways for the night. Greg and Richard decided to do a perimeter check and see how the guards were doing.

  "I'm glad you're here," Richard said as they walked. "You're definitely the right man for the job."

  Greg chuckled. "I don't know about all that. Just trying to keep everyone safe."

  "Exactly. You're not in it for the glory. You genuinely want to keep everyone safe. I've seen you making the rounds, talking to people. I think this is gonna work out great. I'll handle security while you deal with everything else," he finished with a chuckle.

  Greg laugh
ed. "Now the truth comes out. You just wanted someone else to do all the work."

  Richard laughed. "This will be good. We'll get out of here and find someplace up north, away from the Dawns of the world."

  They reached one of the trailer homes set against the fence and Richard called out in greeting. "Ryan, how's it going tonight?" Richard frowned when he didn't hear a response. "Ryan?"

  Greg climbed the ladder on the trailer home and made his way onto the roof. "He's been shot," he said quietly, "crossbow or something."

  Richard cursed. "She's attacking tonight. Oh no."

  "What's wrong?"

  "The fence down here has been cut. This is gonna be bad."

  Greg climbed back down and joined him at the fence. Sure enough, there was a man size hole cut in the fence. Greg looked up. The sun was setting. The infected would be out in force soon.

  "Can we move this trailer?" he asked. "That should cover the hole until we can get it fixed."

  "No time," Richard said nodding beyond the fence.

  Greg looked and saw half a dozen infected slowly making their way towards them.

  "They've already seen us," Richard said. "They’re cautious for the moment. We've been shooting any that get near the fence. I need to you run and get some help, Greg. I'll hold them here for as long as I can."

  Greg shook his head. "I'll stay with you. We can take six between the two of us. Plus, they can only come one at a time."

  "And if we fail? That'll be a whole bunch of infected loose in the park and no one would have any idea what's coming. Plus, the fighting will probably draw more infected."

  Greg nodded. He didn't like it but Richard was right. "Alright. I'll go get help and make my way back."

  "No," Richard said. "Don't come back. We leave now. You get everyone loaded and get the hell out of here."

  "I'm not leaving you to die."

  "Yes you are. That's why I signed you on, remember? You try to stay and we might all die. Get them outta here!"

  Greg took off sprinting and Richard unslung the rifle from his back. He'd probably die in the next few minutes but he would not go quietly. He'd take as many of these demons to hell with him before he died.

  One of the infected came in range and Richard squeezed off a shot that took it in the forehead. He smiled grimly as hit the ground. The other infected jumped back a bit but started making their way forward again when there weren't any more shots. Normally, there'd be at least three guys firing into a group like this but Dawn had killed their guard before he could raise the alarm. Richard let off another shot, striking one in the chest and knocking it to the ground. He couldn't fire indiscriminately, he needed to make every shot count.

  A howl in the distance told him other infected had heard the noise and were on the way. He fired another shot and dropped another infected. Three down but more were on the way. He took his shots carefully and managed to take down the remaining infected before they could reach the fence. He took no victory in it though. Already, he could see more infected coming his way.

   Greg sprinted until he saw one of the guard and came to a stop. "We're under attack! Get to the west fence. Richard is over there alone!"

  The guard unstrapped his rifle and ran in the direction Greg had indicated. Two more guards nearby heard the exchange and headed in that direction as well. Greg quickly made his way to Gio and saw her legs sticking out from underneath a car.

  "Gio!"

  "Yeah?" she asked as she slid from underneath the vehicle.

  "We're under attack. We have to leave now."

  "What's going on?"

  "Someone cut the west fence. Infected are attacking right now."

  Gio shook her head. "But I'm not done. I’m not sure if we have enough vehicles for everyone."

  "We'll have to make do. We need to leave now and save as many as we can."

  Gio nodded. "Alright, let me get my tools together."

  "Greg! Greg!" someone yelled. Greg turned and saw one of the residents running towards him. "The north gate! There's a bunch of infected over there."

  "Alright, I'm on my way. I need you to find some others and help Gio get packed up. Then spread the word. We're getting out of here. Just like we practiced mind you. No panic."

  The man nodded and headed off to do as he was told. Greg took off running again and headed towards the north gate. Along the way he ran into James and Laura. "James," he called as he came to a stop. "I need you at the north gate, there's a breach. Laura, get the kids then help everyone get loaded up." Laura nodded and took off in the direction of the trailer they had been staying in.

  Greg sighed as he took off again, James right on his heels. They should have had a better communication system, walkies or some such. How many people would be lost while they tried to spread the word? Greg reached the north fence and cursed when he saw what was happening. There was an even larger hole here and there were a dozen infected inside the park with more on the way. There were half a dozen guards fighting off the infected but a few were already on the ground unmoving. Greg drew his pistol and machete and launched himself at the infected, trusting James to watch his back.

  He couldn't fire his pistol indiscriminately because he didn't want to hit one of his people by mistake. As he reached the melee, he saw an infected about to bite into the arm of one of his people. A well placed kick to its side sent it sprawling and Greg quickly followed up with a strike to its throat. Turning, he saw another infected coming towards him. Greg ducked under its swipe and placed his pistol to its stomach. Three shots sent it towards the ground screaming in pain. Greg saw an infected with its back turned and stabbed it through the back. He kicked it away to free his machete and looked around for another target.

  James was laying about with his asp and the rest of the men looked to be holding their own now. Greg looked past the fence and saw that more infected were nearly on them. He was about to lend a hand to finish off the remaining infected when her heard someone running towards him from behind. He turned and saw Lisa. If he recalled correctly, she was one of the women that watched the kids. "Greg! There's infected over by the kids. We need help!"

  "James, hold things down here. I'm going to help the kids."

  "On it," James replied as he finished off the last infected with a solid strike to the head.

  Greg followed the woman to the trailer and saw four children cornered against the wall of a trailer home by several infected. Carol stood in front of them and there were a number of infected at her feet. The infected were hanging back for the moment, likely wary of Carol's gun but that wouldn't last for long. There must be another breach around here he thought. He turned to the woman. "Find a guard and have them find that breach. They're coming in from somewhere." That meant another guard had been quietly killed. At her nod he launched himself at the infected. This would be close quarters, he wouldn't risk the pistol with the kids and Carol so close.

  He struck down the first infected from behind and had already put down the second before they realized something was wrong. The two remaining infected turned towards him and attacked. He kicked the first infected in the chest and sent in to the ground and ducked under the swipe of the second infected. He stepped back to give himself some space and smiled grimly when he heard a gunshot close by. Glancing over, he saw that Carol had finished off the infected he had kicked to the ground. Turning back to the one in front of him he blocked a swipe with the machete and countered with a punch to its throat. The infected grabbed its throat as it tried to breathe and Greg finished it off with a two handed blow to its head.

  "You alright?" he asked as he pried the machete from the infected's skull. He took another moment to clean it on the infected's clothing before sheathing it.

  Carol nodded. "We're fine now that you're here. What's going on? Where did all these infected come from?"

  "Someone cut holes in the fence. They took out the guard before they could raise an alarm."

  "Oh no," Carol replied.

  Greg nodde
d. "We're getting out of here. Let's get you guys over to Gio. I'm not letting you walk around without an escort."

  Carol nodded. She put the safety on the gun and tucked it into her waistband. "Come on guys. It's time to go. Just like we practiced." The kids nodded tear stained faces and followed as they lead the way to the vehicles.

  Richard fired his last round and smiled grimly. He'd lost count of how many infected he'd killed but it would be over soon. He was out of bullets but he could hold out awhile longer. They could only come at him one at time through the hole in the gate. He stepped over the bodies of infected and stood directly in front of the hole. He hoped Greg was doing his part. Gunfire from other parts of the camp told him this wasn't the only breach but he didn't dare leave this spot. The more infected that were running loose in the park meant the more people that would die. An infected approached the hole and Richard stepped forward and thrust quickly into its throat. He smiled as it fell to the ground holding its throat. Now, he only had to do this about twenty more times to take care of this next wave.

  Jackson kicked the infected in the knee and it fell to the ground. He quickly stepped away and Shirley stepped forward and gave it two solid blows to the head with baseball bat she'd found. Jackson turned to face the next infected and blocked its swipe, a thrust to its throat sent it crashing to the ground. Jackson hoped some help would show up soon. He and Shirley were holding their own but it would only take one slip up for it to all be over. The people they were guarding weren't any help either. He glanced at the half a dozen people cowering against the side of a trailer home. He shook his head in disgust. This was literally life and death and they couldn't be bothered to defend themselves? Shirley knocked an infected to the ground and he quickly finished it off. She was breathing heavily and probably wouldn't be able to do this for much longer.

  "Take a breather," he said. "I'll do the next few alone."

  "I'm fine," Shirley replied breathlessly. "I'm not gonna sit here cowering while you do all the work."

  Jackson smiled. "Alright then." He ducked under a swipe and stabbed the infected in the stomach. It bent over in pain and Shirley stepped forward and gave it a solid blow to the back of the head. A second blow while it was on the ground stopped it from moving. Jackson sighed as more infected appeared around the corner. He was starting to get tired himself. Just as the infected started towards them, he heard several shots in quick succession. Each shot put an infected down. Looking in the direction of the shots he saw Greg lowering his pistol.

  "You guys alright?" he asked.

  Jackson laughed. "You have great timing. We're fine now."

  Greg nodded. "We're leaving. Get them over to the vehicles," he said nodding towards the people cowering near the trailer. "Be careful. There's infected loose everywhere. Someone cut holes in the fences." Greg left them to look for anyone else that needed help.

  Jackson nodded. "Alright," he said looking towards his charges, "you heard the man. It's time to go."

  A few of them shook their heads. "You heard what he said. There's infected out there. We should stay here until the fighting is done."

  Shirley stepped forward. "Get up or stay here by yourselves. We'll fight to keep you safe but we're not gonna die because you're stupid!"

  Jackson nodded. "We're leaving now. Come, or don't." With that said, he nodded to Shirley and they started walking towards the vehicles, weapons at the ready. Most of the people got up and followed although one stubbornly refused to move.

  "You guys are crazy. I'm staying right here."

  Jackson shook his head as they walked, "Idiot."

  James elbowed the infected in the throat then turned to hit one that had tackled one of his fellows to the ground. Fortunately he'd intervened before the man was bitten. The man scrambled back to his feet and nodded his thanks. James finished off the first infected with a solid blow to skull and took a look around. He didn't see any other infected for the moment and sighed in relief. 

  "Anyone bit?" he asked looking around.

  Everyone shook their heads and James nodded in satisfaction. This morning had reminded him of that day in the hospital and he was glad to see people still standing. James directed a few of the men to remain at the gate and took the rest to see if anyone else needed help. There were still sounds of gunfire coming from several areas of the trailer park so the attack was still underway.

  Greg made his way back to the area where Gio was stationed. He nodded in satisfaction when he saw the group directing people into vehicles. "Great work guys," he said as he reached them. "I want you guys to go with this first wave. I'll stay here to make sure people can reach the vehicles."

  Jackson and Shirley both nodded while Carol and Laura shook their heads. "I'm not leaving without you," Carol said.

  "And I'm not leaving without James," Laura added.

  Greg wisely remained silent and nodded. He could tell by the look in their eye that this wasn't a fight he could win. Greg directed a few nearby guards to accompany the group and the first wave of vehicles started making their way out of the trailer park towards the meeting point. Greg noticed that he didn't hear any more gunfire and hoped that meant the attack had been repelled. A few minutes later, James arrived with some guards in tow.

  "Looks like we're clear," he said.

  Greg nodded. "Did you check the west fence? That's where Richard was when this all started."

  "I didn't know," James replied. "Everything was clear there when we walked by. We checked the whole park."

  "Alright. Let's head that way. We can also look for stragglers so we don't leave anyone behind."

  A few minutes later Greg was standing over Richard's body. He was surrounded by the bodies of the infected. They'd taken him down but it didn't look like it had been easy. That heroic bastard Greg thought shaking his head. He also saw the bodies of the guards that had come to help. From the position of their bodies it looked as if they had arrived after Richard had already fallen. They didn't run though, they held the line for long as they could. A howl in the distance caught Greg's attention and he looked beyond the fence to see more infected. 

  "Time to go," he announced, "I hate the idea of leaving Richard's body here but he wouldn't want us risking ourselves for sentiment. Let's head back." Greg led the group back towards the vehicles and they knocked on trailer home doors as they went. This turned up a small family of four but it looked like most of the other people had made it out in the first wave. 

  Greg road in the lead vehicle with Carol, James, and Laura. They left the trailer park and started taking the main road towards the expressway. They were nearly out of town when they were forced to come to a stop. There were several cars blocking the road with a number of people standing in front. Greg exited the vehicle and everyone else in the caravan followed suit.

  "I'm assuming that's Dawn up there," Greg said after everyone gathered around.

  "How do you want to play it?" James asked.

  "I'll meet with her. Hopefully we can do this without a fight but be ready." He looked around at the remaining guards in the group. "I don't know who exactly did the deed, but I'm pretty sure someone cut the fences on Dawn's order. Anyone have a problem if we have to fight?"

  All the guards shook their heads fiercely. They'd gotten lucky today that they'd only lost so few but they were happy to exact some payback on whoever was responsible. Greg walked towards the group of people and Dawn came to meet him halfway. 

  "We heard the gunfire," she said, "is everyone okay?"

  "Really?" Greg asked. "You orchestrate the whole thing and have the gall to ask if we're okay?"

  "I see Richard has poisoned you against me. Where is he by the way? Did he make it out in that first group?"

  "Richard is dead because you," Greg replied. "He gave his life so we could get away."

  "That's a shame," Dawn said with no trace of remorse in her voice. "That could have been avoided if he hadn't been so stubborn."

  Greg felt rage boil up within him
at her casual mention of Richard's death. "Don't talk about him," he said angrily.

  Dawn shrugged. "I don't really care to be honest. We have a bit of a problem here, Greg. I don't care that you guys are leaving but you'll have to turn over any supplies. Those belong to the city."

  Greg took a step forward. "I'm this close to putting a bullet in your brain, Dawn. Good men died today because of you. Push me if you want to."

  Dawn looked in his eyes and must have seen something because she nodded. "Maybe I underestimated you. Alright, you're free to go." She waved towards her men and they began moving the cars from the road. Greg waited until the road was clear and walked back towards the cars. A few moments later they left Dawn behind.

  Dawn sighed shakily as Greg's caravan drove away. She'd made a gross miscalculation. She'd seen the look in Greg's eye when she had pushed him about the supplies. She had no doubt in her mind that he would have killed her then and there. She shook her head as if that would dispel her unease. It was over, she'd never have to deal with him again.
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