Thursday, November 13, 2014
IN THE FLESH: PART SIXTEEN
Genre: Horror (Zombies)
Carson Ryder: Former marine/Former police officer/Suffers from retrograde amnesia/ Searching for clues to his past
Damien Albright: Found and saved Carson/Has no family or friends outside of the group/Doesn’t seem to have a care in the world
Kenny Sudrow: Former spa porter/Happy to be doing something else
Eli Burton: Survivor found in Cherrywood Mall/Parents were rich and left him a large inheritance when they died
Vern Sheldon: Former truck driver/Carries a badass flamethrower
Terry Watts: Proprietor of the Starlight Hotel
Valentina Jackson: A new ally that was saved by Carson Ryder
Tyler Reese: Saved Kenny Sudrow’s life/Carries a submachine gun/a native Bostonian
IN THE FLESH
By Daniel Skye
Day One Hundred and Eighty-Three.
Malcolm McCredie’s departed group had left behind a plethora of ammunition, guns, food, bottled water, and other helpful supplies. Vern Sheldon, who was still nursing his wounds, took inventory of the weapons that morning.
They had Vern’s .357 Magnum, Ryder’s Smith & Wesson pistol and Remington shotgun, Damien’s dual .38 pistols, Kenny’s semi-automatic pistol, Tyler’s submachine gun, eight AK-47s, two revolvers, five automatic pistols, a .27 Beretta, and three hunting rifles in addition to their knives and machetes. Not to mention Vern’s flamethrower.
“That’s a wicked awesome collection,” Tyler Reese had said to Vern. He was still nursing several wounds of his own. McCredie’s men had not been kind to him.
“I pity the next poor schmuck that tries to fuck with us,” Vern told him.
“You guys got any vehicles? I noticed the gasoline in the storage closet, but I didn’t see any cars or trucks outside.”
“We lost our vehicles in a big explosion. It’s a long story.”
“Too bad,” Tyler shrugged. “I used to be a mechanic. If we manage to find any vehicles that aren’t totaled, I might be able to fix them.”
“That’s good to know,” Vern said. “I’ll keep it in mind. Damn, these clothes have seen better days,” Vern said in reference to his ragged winter apparel.
“Considering I used to wear a grease stained jumpsuit to work, these clothes are actually a step up for me.”
“Yeah, I guess I shouldn’t complain either. I used to drive a truck for a living. The only time you ever saw me wearing a suit was if I was on my way to court.”
The group had also acquired a large quantity of liquor that McCredie’s army once possessed. The liquor had been the object of Kenny’s quest when he wandered into town and got captured by McCredie and company. And while Carson was ready to forgive him, Damien Albright was fuming when he found out.
“You risked our lives over some fucking booze? I should kill you right here and now.”
“Hey, isn’t that a little extreme?” Valentina interjected.
“No, it’s not. It’s perfectly fucking acceptable in this situation. He brought them back here. The men who beat us, tortured us, and held us against our will. The men who raped you for crying out loud!”
“Yes, and I have forgiven him,” Valentina said, draping her arm over Kenny’s shoulder. “You should be able to find it in your heart to do the same.”
“You can forgive and forget all you want, sister, but I’m not letting this go.”
“Damien, just drop it,” Carson urged him.
“It’s useless talking to you people,” Damien said, storming out in a huff.
Hurt by Damien’s words, Kenny snuck off to converse with Tyler. He had taken a bottle of liquor from the crate McCredie’s men had transported with them. He brought the neck of the bottle to his nose and sniffed the rum before taking the first sip.
“You want some?” Kenny asked.
“What the hell,” Tyler shrugged. “You only live once.” Tyler accepted the bottle and took a big swig. “Rum’s never been my thing. I prefer vodka.”
“You’re in luck,” Kenny said. “I think McCredie’s men left a bottle of Kettle One behind.”
“This is a wicked nice place you guys have here,” Tyler said, taking another swig of rum and passing the bottle back to Kenny.
“That sounds like a Boston accent to me,” Kenny said in between sips of rum.
“Guilty as charged,” Tyler said. “I was born and raised there.”
“How’d you end up in Tennessee by yourself then?”
“I was part of a group of fifteen. Well, it was fifteen when we started out. We had two big trucks and I was the only mechanic so I kept them running. But we lost a few people on our way to Washington. We were heading there because we heard rumors there was food, shelter. Before I knew it, there were only five of us left. And before I knew it, I was all alone.”
“What about that cannon you were carrying with you?”
“The submachine gun? I got that from one of the members of the group. He didn’t have much use for it when the Biters tore his face off. I barely even knew how to use the thing. I had to teach myself. I can be a fast learner when the pressure’s on.”
“What about your family, your friends?”
“I lost them all back in Boston when the virus first hit. It spread so fast. There was no time to save anyone or anything. I barely made it out alive myself.”
“My family’s gone too,” Kenny said, trying to console him. “We’ve all lost people we care about. But we’re still alive. And we’re not the only ones. So there’s still hope.” Kenny guzzled some more rum down and passed the bottle back to Tyler. He was feeling a slight buzz now and it helped with forgetting his troubles. “If Trevor Virden were here right now, he’d say something stupid to make me laugh.”
“Who’s that? A friend of yours?”
“He was. We lost Trevor on the road. Him and Devon Morris. They were my best friends. We lost them. We lost Arnold Vesti. We lost Brent Blaze. We lost Janice and Regis Whitfield. We lost Chase Crawford and Chuckie Razzano. We lost Eli’s sister, Ally. We lost Willard Pickman. We lost a lot of good people. Well, most of them were good people. Regis was a scumbag and Willard was a lying sack of crap, but the rest were decent people.”
“I’m so sorry for your losses. You said Eli lost his sister? Is that why he keeps to himself most of the time?”
“I suppose. Who knows? I don’t really talk much to the kid.”
“Was his sister hot at least?”
“Yeah, she was,” Kenny smiled as he reminisced. Tyler took a few nips from the bottle and passed it back to Kenny. Kenny craned his neck and peeked down the neck of the bottle with one eye. It was half full and decided to put the rest aside for whoever wanted it. There was plenty more liquor to go around.
“Minus Valentina, this group is pretty much a sausage fest. We could use some more women. You ever try to get with Valentina?”
“Yeah, but she’s like a brick wall,” Kenny said. “Besides, I think she’s got eyes for Carson. But Carson is preoccupied with the search for his wife and daughter.”
“What drama,” Tyler said.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Kenny said, laughing. “Now let’s go see about that vodka.”
* * *
Carson Ryder waited a while for Damien to cool off. Then he approached him in his room. “Are you calm?” Ryder asked.
“As calm as I’m going to get,” Damien said.
“It’s time to find out what Terry Watts is hiding upstairs,” Ryder told him. “No more secrets. And bring your pistols just to be safe. I’m going to grab Vern and Eli for backup.”
Ryder gathered the men and they entered the stairwell. Terry Watts must’ve heard them coming and cut them off at the top of the stairs.
“Can I help you gentlemen?” Terry asked.
“Step aside,” Damien said. “Now.”
“What’s the problem here? I thought we had a deal.”
“Yeah, well, the deal’s changed,” Ryder told him. “Now please step aside like Damien asked you to.”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” Terry said. “Look, we all went through a very stressful, traumatizing ordeal. Let’s be reasonable here and talk this out.”
“No more talk,” Damien shoved Terry aside.
“Please don’t,” Terry begged from the top of the stairs as the four men checked every room. “We had a deal. We had an arrangement.”
It was at the end of the first corridor where the smell hit them. Carson retched and Vern almost lost his breakfast. The only one who didn’t seem fazed was Eli. Was he accustomed to the smell of death?
They opened the door to Room 38 and their jaws hit the floor. The bodies of Terry’s wife and son were propped up in chairs around a square Formica table. The cause of death was apparent. Both had been shot in the back of the head, ensuring they wouldn’t return as Biters.
Judging by the advanced rot and decay, Carson surmised they had been dead for months.
The four men turned to see Terry standing in the doorway, tears streaming down his face. “I did it to spare them the horrors of this world. I was going to kill myself after. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I set their bodies up around the table and pretended they were still alive. I fooled myself into thinking I still had a family. But I wasn’t hurting anybody, was I?”
“You hurt them, didn’t you?” Damien asked. “Your own wife and child.”
“No, I spared them from being torn apart by those drooling lunatics out there.”
“Did you even give them a choice? Did you? Or did you just decide to end it all on your own?”
“I don’t have to answer to you,” Terry said. “I’ve suffered enough.”
“Hey, where did Eli go?” Vern asked.
Eli emerged from the bedroom of Room 38 with something in his hand. “I found these under the bed,” Eli said, shaking the bottle of Carvedilol and letting the pills rattle around like a maraca.
“You son of a bitch,” Damien said. “You stole Chase’s heart medication. You might as well have killed him yourself. You probably let that Biter into the hotel that one night too. It all makes sense now. How else did that thing get in here? Thought you could get it to do your dirty work?”
“I never saw those before,” Terry swore. “You’ve got to believe me. Chase was a good man. We talked, we played chess together. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to him. You must believe me.”
“Save it,” Ryder said. “I’ve seen and heard enough. I’m going to give you a choice, Terry. Exile…or death.”
“Exile? You’re banishing me from my own property? After I took you in from the cold and saved your lives? You ungrateful bastards. I should’ve killed you the first night when I had the chance. All the evils that you’ve brought upon this place. You all deserve to rot in hell.”
“I’ll give you a minute to decide,” Ryder said.
Terry sighed. “Exile,” he whispered.
* * *
Vern packed a satchel full of food, bottled water, medical supplies, and a loaded handgun for Terry Watts. Carson and Damien volunteered to march Terry out on his walk of shame and refused to hand over the bag until they cut him loose.
“Isn’t this taking things a bit too far?” Valentina Jackson asked as she followed them to the nearest exit.
“No,” Ryder said. “I’m not taking any more chances while I’m around. We’ve lost too many good people. Besides, you wouldn’t be arguing if you saw what we did upstairs.”
Vern opened the exit door and assured them he’d come looking if they didn’t make it back by dark.
Damien and Carson led Terry out into the thawing snow and walked towards the adjacent woods. They found an opening and followed a path that led them deep into the wilderness.
No members of the group carried a watch, not since they lost Chuckie Razzano. But Carson estimated they still had four or five good hours of sunlight.
“Is this what the world has come to?” Terry asked as they marched along. “You just cast anyone out that you view as a threat?”
“I’m sorry, Terry,” Carson said. “But you gave us no choice.”
“It doesn’t matter now if you believe me or not. But for the record, I never let that Biter into the hotel. And I certainly didn’t steal Chase Crawford’s medication. Someone is setting me up. I don’t know who or why, but I’m telling you the truth.”
“What was it Chase said right before he died?” Damien asked, ignoring Terry’s words. “He was screaming something.”
“Ebb,” Carson recalled. “He was screaming ebb over and over.”
“What do you think he meant by that?”
“I don’t know,” Ryder shrugged. “It could be significant. It could mean nothing at all. I guess we’ll never know.”
“What if he wasn’t saying ebb,” Terry suggested. “What if he was saying E.B.? As in, Eli Burton?”
“Now I know you’re just trying to bullshit your way out of this,” Ryder said. “Eli is a good kid who lost his sister not too long ago. How dare you try to use him as an excuse to save yourself?”
“It was just a theory,” Terry muttered as they continued to walk the narrow path.
“What’s that?” Ryder asked, and they stopped dead in their tracks to listen. They heard the snapping of branches and the crunching of fallen leaves where the frost had thawed. A pack of Biters were heading their way.
Carson’s Remington shotgun was loaded and he pumped the mechanism to prepare himself for what was coming. Damien drew his matching pistols and they stood their ground as they waited for the Biters to approach.
“Give me a gun,” Terry said. “I know you have one in the bag for me.”
“No way,” Damien said. “I don’t trust you around me with a gun. We can handle this. Just stay back, keep your distance. We’ve got this.”
Carson and Damien were anticipating a whole herd of Biters. So they were pleasantly surprised when only one Biter staggered out from the thick brush.
“You want to do the honors or should I?” Damien asked.
“Be my guest,” Carson told him.
“Gee, thanks,” Damien said, holstering his pistols. He removed the hunting knife from the sheath laced around his upper thigh. “No sense in wasting bullets.”
The Biter was already wounded, its leg snared in the metal teeth of a bear trap. But it was persistent, continuing its pursuit of nourishment as it dragged the bear trap along with it. The pain didn’t seem to register with it. The cold, faraway gaze in its eyes told Carson that the Biter didn’t feel pain at all. That pain was just a distant memory it couldn’t even begin to comprehend.
The Biter had no pupils, as its irises had devoured them and enveloped the white of its eyes. It drooled and snarled as it lumbered forth, the metal bear trap scraping patches of ice amongst the trail. Damien waited for it to get as close as possible before burying the hunting knife deep into the Biters skull, then retracting the blade and smearing the blood on a pile of fallen leaves.
“You see how easy that was?” Damien asked Carson as he placed the knife back in its sheath. “It went right through his head like I was cutting through a warm stick of butter. Its skull was like putty. These things are getting weaker, their bodies are deteriorating faster. Maybe we don’t even need some miracle cure. Maybe they’ll all just turn to mush and die off in a year or so.”
“That’s unlikely,” Carson said. “As long as they keep eating, they’ll keep surviving.”
Terry Watts had taken a few steps back to give Damien his space when taking down the Biter. But he just left himself open to the unexpected.
Two more Biters lurched from the brush, and before Watts could even hear them coming, the first Biter was sinking its teeth into the nape of his neck. Watts shrieked as he dropped to the ground, the Biters teeth still locked into his neck. The second Biter had begun gnawing away on his right arm and was at the bone when Damien plunging his knife into its skull.
He used the knife to quickly dispose of the other Biter, and then took a quick view of the perimeter to make sure they were in the clear.
“I don’t think we can save him,” Damien said as Terry applied pressure to the back of his neck to slow the blood flow.
“I’m right here you know,” Terry muttered in between gasps of pain.
“I’m sorry, Terry,” Carson said. “We never meant for this to happen. But he’s right. You’ve been bit. And we can’t save you. The only humane thing to do from here is to put you out of your misery. You want us to do it now, or wait until you turn?”
“No,” Terry said. “I don’t want to turn. Just give me a few minutes. I need to make my peace with God.”
“Sure, Terry,” Carson nodded. “Anything you want.”
“Christ, I wish I had a cigarette right now,” Terry muttered, relinquishing his hand as it was unsuccessful in stopping the blood spurts.
“You and me both,” Carson agreed. “You want some food, water? You want me to say a few words?”
“No, just…just let me rest,” Terry said, shutting his eyes. Carson didn’t want to use his gun. He was afraid the sound would just draw out more Biters lurking in the area. But he had to make it quick. And using the Remington just seemed cruel. So he borrowed one of Damien’s pistols to do the job. He insisted on doing it himself.
It was quick and painless; one round right to the head. He did it right before Terry’s body had a chance to turn.
The shotgun blast echoed through the woods and put a smoking crater in the tree Damien was standing a few feet away from. It wasn’t Carson’s Remington. There was someone else amongst them.
The Hunter made himself seen on the long, narrow path. He was a tall, bulky man decked out in camouflage, toting a twelve-gage shotgun.
Carson dropped the satchel of supplies and returned fire with his Remington. The first blast was just a warning shot. He pumped the shotgun and gave the Hunter a look to let him know the second shot wouldn’t miss. The second shot would be a kill shot.
“Easy, boys,” the Hunter said. “Didn’t mean to startle you. I thought you were a deer. I’m awful sorry about that. It’s a good thing I missed, huh?”
“What are you doing out here all by yourself?”
“I told you already,” the hunter said. “I’m just out looking for deer.”
“So you mean us no harm?” Carson asked.
“None at all,” the Hunter assured him.
“So why haven’t you lowered your shotgun yet?”
“I could ask you the same question,” the Hunter replied.
“This is pointless,” Damien said, reaching for his pistols. “He’s toying with us. You know what has to be done, Carson. It’s him or us.”
The Hunter fired his shotgun again, missing Carson by mere inches. Though unlike Carson, he didn’t intend to miss that shot. He pumped his shotgun, but ducked for cover as Damien and Carson returned fire.
“Where’d he go?” Damien shouted.
“I don’t know,” Carson said. “I can’t see him.”
Another shot was fired from a distance, just missing Damien’s head and taking out the dense limb of a tree.
“Where are you, you bastard?” Damien screamed. “Too afraid to show yourself?”
Carson saw something fly through the air and land at Damien’s feet. “Grenade!” he shouted.
They ran as far as they could and ducked for cover, just avoiding the blast. When they returned to the charred circle where the grenade had been thrown, the Hunter was long gone. And so was the satchel with the gun and supplies that were meant for Terry Watts.
* * *
“Where have you guys been?” Vern asked as he let Damien and Carson through one of the backdoors.
“It didn’t go as well as we planned,” Damien said. “Biters got Terry. Carson did the right thing and put him out of his misery.”
“So where’s the satchel?” Valentina asked.
“We got attacked by this hunter,” Carson explained. “We had guns, and he had grenades. So he sort of won that exchange. He made off with the satchel. I doubt we’ll ever see it or him again.”
“You led that poor man to his death,” Valentina chided.
“That poor man was keeping his dead wife and son locked away in a room upstairs. That poor man swiped Chase’s medication. Medication that might’ve saved his life. And for all we know, he was the one who let that Biter into the hotel that one night. We couldn’t trust him anymore.”
“So that’s it?” Valentina asked. “When you don’t trust someone anymore you just cast them out and hope they survive on their own out there? How do you even decide something like that?”
“I think it was called for in this situation,” Carson sighed.
“I hate to agree, but he’s right,” Vern said. “Terry was unstable.”
“Yeah, don’t beat yourself up,” Damien said. “We were right on this occasion. The man was a danger to us all.”
“Again, how can you even decide who is a danger?”
“If you kill your own family members and prop them up at a table like puppets, I consider you a danger. Now enough of this bickering.” Damien stormed out in anger before Valentina had another chance to retort.
“That is one stubborn man,” Valentina said, shaking her head.
“Tell me about it,” Carson said. “Look, I’m sorry, Valentina. I did what I thought was the right thing to do.”
“I know,” she smiled. “You’re doing your best to protect this group, to keep us safe. I understand you can’t take any chances. And I thank you for everything that you do.”
“Get a room already,” Vern muttered as he wandered off to give them their privacy.
“I can’t protect you all forever,” Carson said. “My family is my top priority. I’m going to find them no matter what it takes.”
“I know that,” Valentina nodded. “You do what your heart tells you to do, Carson.”
* * *
Kenny and Tyler had polished off half a bottle of rum and an entire bottle of vodka. They were so wasted when Carson came in to give them the news about Terry that they couldn’t even recite the alphabet if they tried. He figured it was best to leave the news until morning.
“Dude,” Tyler slurred. “The zombie apocalypse is freaking awesome.”
“I can do this all day,” Kenny stammered.
“How drunk are you guys?” Damien asked when he snuck in after Carson retired to his room.
“Drunk enough to know how many stars there are in the sky,” Kenny spat out the words, pronouncing half of them wrong.
“That’s unpossible,” Tyler slurred. “You can’t count all the stars. They're, like, infinite. But I can tell you how many ‘Hey Jude’s’ there are in the song ‘Hey Jude’.”
“Just shut up and tell me where the liquor is,” Damien laughed. “It’s been a long day and I need a drink.”
“Crate…crate…in the storage closet…liquor bottles…” Kenny struggled to complete the thought, but Damien got the gist of it, and headed to the storage closet to look for some bourbon.
“There’s someone outside my window!” Valentina shouted from her room. Damien came rushing in and Carson followed shortly after.
“Who is it?” Damien asked, peering out the window into the darkness.
“It was a girl,” Valentina said. “I couldn’t tell if she was by herself.”
“Did she have any weapons on her?” Carson asked.
“It didn’t look like it,” Valentina said.
“You wanna go outside and check it out?” Damien asked.
“Isn’t this how horror movies start?” Carson asked and shrugged as they headed for the nearest exit.
They found three ragtag survivors waiting for them. None of them appeared to be armed.
“Names,” Carson inquired.
“I’m Taryn Mills,” the young woman spoke. She was paper thin and Carson could trace the outline of her ribcage through her tattered jacket with his eyes. “The one with the bandages wrapped around his head is a clumsy bastard named George Verdi. He’s also my boyfriend. And that’s Diego Garcia. He saved us back in Washington. George and I migrated there because we figured it would be the safest place. We were wrong. It’s dead central out there.”
“Are you carrying any weapons?”
“No,” George spoke up, saving them the song and dance Taryn would’ve gave them. “We used the last of our ammo a few towns back. We don’t have any guns or supplies. We were just looking for a safe place to crash and we stumbled on this hotel.”
“How do we know you’re good, honest people we can trust?” Carson asked them.
“How do we know we can trust you?” Garcia asked. “You have the guns, you have the supplies. We’ve got nothing.”
“We’re willing to share with those who are willing to earn it,” Carson said.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to earn our keep,” Taryn said.
“Let them in,” Valentina said. “I’m a good judge of character, and I trust them. I think they’re good people.”
“Oh, I guess it’s settled then,” Damien said sarcastically.
“You can stay the night,” Carson said. “Then we’ll talk in the morning.”
Day One Hundred and Ninety.
Taryn, George, and Diego had more than earned their keep in the days they spent with the group. Carson didn’t hear a peep out of them the first night, and assessed after the first few days that they posed no threat. They were just people that needed shelter. And he didn’t have the heart to turn them away.
Taryn and Valentina bonded instantly. Valentina was just thankful to have another woman to talk to. And Kenny, Damien, Vern, and Tyler all agreed that Taryn was easy on the eyes. None of them seemed to mind having her around.
Diego used his carpentry skills to repair the front doors that had been badly damaged and welded shut by Vern to prevent entry. He built two new doors from scrap metal and repaired the hinges. He even made a lock. Obviously there was no key and it could only be locked from inside. But it still kept them safe and allowed them to enter and exit through the vestibule again.
George and Diego had even accompanied Carson on one final expedition to town. Carson returned with them to town ostensibly in search of supplies. But Carson was really searching for the Hunter.
He knew the threat this man posed to others and didn’t feel the group was safe with him around. But their search turned up nil, even though George found a pack of batteries in an abandoned electronics shop they could use for their flashlights. And Diego managed to scrounge up some bundles of yellow rope he found at a hardware store. Carson wasn’t sure what they’d use it for, but they took it along anyway.
The group all agreed to accept Taryn, George, and Diego as their own. And so it was official. The group had three new members, but they were about to lose a key player.
* * *
Day One Hundred and Ninety-Five.
The frost had thawed. The snow had melted away. It looked like the worst was already past them. So without drawing too much attention to himself, Carson gathered some clothes, food, water, supplies, and ammunition for his Remington shotgun. He also had the machete and spare knife he carried in his boot. He considered taking one of the AK-47s left behind by McCredie’s men, but he figured the group would need as much firepower they could get their hands on once they were on their own.
His mind was made up. He was setting out on foot. He was going to make it to Arkansas one way or another and find his family.
But Kenny Sudrow was waiting to cut him off at one of the exits. “You weren’t even going to say good-bye?”
“I didn’t want to make a fuss over it,” Carson said. “But it’s time for me to move on. I have to find my wife and daughter. I gave you all a chance to join me. But I understand you feel safer here. Stay; build a new life for yourselves. I’ll be fine on my own. I hope you will too. Tell everyone I said good-bye and give them my best wishes.”
“Will do,” Kenny said, extending his hand. Carson accepted and they shook hands and gave each other a nod of recognition. “Take care of yourself. Thanks for everything.”
“No, Kenny,” Carson said. “Thank you for everything. Be safe.”
* * *
“Where’s Carson?” Valentina asked when she woke and wandered into the lobby.
Vern was fresh out of instant coffee, so he was having water with his energy bar. George and Diego were munching on jars of preservatives and boxes of raisins. Taryn had only a handful of raisins and couldn’t eat anymore. She loathed them. But there were some grapes Vern had that were still plump and juicy, so Taryn had those instead.
“He’s gone,” Vern informed her. “Packed up and left this morning. He’s heading out in foot to look for his wife and daughter.”
“He didn’t even say good-bye,” Valentina said.
“Don’t feel too bad,” Vern told her. “He didn’t say good-bye to me either. I only found out through Kenny. I’m sure he’ll be all right on his own though. Carson is tough and resourceful. If anyone can survive on their own, it’s him.”
“I hope so,” Valentina said, a hint of worry in her voice.
“Has anyone seen Eli, by the way?” Vern asked. “He hasn’t eaten anything this morning. That’s not like him.”
“He’s been keeping to himself lately,” Kenny said as he wandered in to grab a water bottle and an energy bar. The box they had found at the grocery came in handy and had lasted them quite a while. So had the cases of water they acquired. “I guess he’s taking Chase Crawford’s place as the loner of the group.”
“Oh well,” Vern shrugged. “Best to leave him be. Where’s Tyler?”
“Hung over,” Kenny said. “He’ll be up soon probably.”
Vern stared vacantly into the empty fireplace. “What are you thinking?” Kenny asked.
“I’m just thinking about Chase’s last words. I’m still trying to figure out what he meant. Ebb…”
* * *
Carson Ryder had survived a full day on his own, taking down several Biters along the way. He used his machete on every occasion, making sure not to use the Remington and draw attention to himself.
As night fell and darkness rapidly approached, he set up camp for the evening in the woods. He made sure not to stray too far from the main road. The interstate would lead him straight into Arkansas and then the real journey would begin.
But Carson wasn’t alone in the woods that evening when he gathered handfuls of dry leaves and tree branches and lit a fire. He sensed a presence among him. So when the Hunter snuck up and tried to get the drop on him, all he saw was the fire Carson had abandoned.
“Where the hell did he go?” the Hunter muttered under his breath.
BOOM. The blast of the shotgun echoed through the woods and sent the Hunter scrambling in its direction.
As he ran through the darkness, he lost his footing and stumbled forward. Looking back, he could see the yellow rope tied between the tree lines. As he reached for his twelve-gage, Carson stepped out from behind the trees and cocked his Remington.
“Don’t even think about it,” Carson said.
“All right, you got the drop on me,” the Hunter said, admitting defeat. “Good game. Well played, sir.”
“Is that all this is to you?” Carson asked with disgust. “A game?”
“But of course,” the Hunter replied. “I hunt people for sport. It’s all I do now that the world ended. This is my fun. Some people have golf, I have hunting.”
“You sick piece of garbage,” Carson spat. “I should blow your head off.”
“What’s stopping you?”
“Nothing,” Carson said, squeezing the trigger.
Carson searched his pockets; found the extra rounds of ammo for the shotgun. He also found a set of keys.
“What the hell are these for?” It wasn’t until morning that he discovered the answer to this question. They were keys to the Hunter’s RV.
* * *
Day One Hundred and Ninety-Six.
Carson pulled the RV up to the Starlight Hotel that morning with a grin spread from ear to ear. He was tempted to honk the horn, but he knew the racket would just attract unwanted attention from the Biters.
The group rushed out through the vestibule when they heard the vehicle approach. Damien had his pistols out and ready to go, but breathed a sigh of relief when Carson opened the door and waved hello.
“So who wants to go to Arkansas with me?” Carson asked.
“I’ll go,” Valentina said.
“I’m with you all the way, man,” Kenny said.
“Me too,” Vern said.
“Got enough room in there for us?” Taryn asked in regards to her, George, and Diego.
“Plenty,” Carson assured them.
“Why the hell not?” Eli shrugged. “I’m in.”
“You know I’m in,” Damien said.
“So it’s unanimous,” Carson said. “Excellent. Just one problem. I’m not so sure this heap of junk will make it to Arkansas. It broke down on me once on my way back.”
“That’s a wicked awesome RV,” Tyler said. “Let me take a look at her. I used to be a mechanic. I bet I can get her running right again.”
“Be my guest,” Carson said. “Everyone start packing. Because we leave for Arkansas as soon as Tyler is finished.”
To Be Continued With Part Seventeen: PANACEA (And we learn the disturbing truth about Diego Garcia)