Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Forty-First Entry: The Sword of Gabriel

April 19th

Spring has come, and things are bad. It was about two weeks ago that the snow melt kicked into overdrive as the days started getting up into the sixties and seventies. When that started to happen, and given that we found active (once we found them anyway) zeds in that house last month we decided that we needed to be ready to leave at a moment's notice. To that end we loaded a lot of the things that we don't use everyday into the Excursions, and Maria pulled them each right up to the garage to make sure they would be road ready if we needed them.

The car that Gerry used to pull that tree limb out of the dining room was our biggest concern, not only did it spend the rest of that night with water from the lake splashing up on the front of it, but it got hit by a boat, that's right a boat. The boat that had been floating in the middle of the lake all winter long apparently broke free from its anchor (or whatever was holding it in place), and was blown to shore where it crashed into the front of the Excursion. The damage to the car wasn't bad, although we did have to go into town for a new headlight since the boat broke the one of the passenger side.

Luckily it was a small boat, just a basic motorboat that had probably once upon a time been used primarily for fishing. In the boat was the body of a woman; it looked like she had once been dark skinned, but the winter weather had not been kind to her. The most interesting thing about her was that she was dead. Somehow she got to the middle of the lake, anchored the boat, died, and not did come back as a zombie. It's either that or direct exposure to subfreezing temperatures really does destroy them, but anything less than that just makes them go dormant?

Sometimes I really wish I had been a scientist instead of a retail clerk. This new world really makes me feel dumb sometimes. Of course the old world used to make me feel dumb sometimes too; maybe it's not the world that is the issue.

Maria and Beth also spent one entire day going through our guns to make sure that they were all still usable. I was finally corrected that the Browning that I have been calling a rifle for the last year is actually a shotgun. I found this out by referring to it as a rifle when trying to strike up a conversation with Maria (I do try occasionally). Not only did she correct me for mis-identifying the weapon, but she informed me that I am an idiot for not knowing better. Clearly things are improving between us.

It was last week when everything fell apart for us; it was mid-morning when I awoke to the sound of something hitting the window. I scrambled out of the sleeping bags that Sharon and I share and crossed the room to the window.

I threw back the curtains to find a dark skinned man staring back at me. His right cheek was gone, revealing yellowed teeth in a grim grin. A lot of his skin looked discolored and leathery, like a piece of meat let too long in the freezer. His right hand was pressed against the glass, and had smeared the accumulated grime on the window with fresh grime.

I jumped back in shock, and must have made a noise of some sort, as I woke Sharon up, “Whuzzit?” she asked.

“Get up! There's one outside,” I said as I hurriedly tried to put my right shoe on.

“Wuzowside?” she asked groggily.

“A zed,“ I said, putting on my left shoe.

That got her attention. Sharon sat bolt upright, and looked over to the window where the grim grinning ghoul pulled its right hand back, and them slapped the window again, making it rattle in its frame.

“We need to tell the others, “Sharon said, going for her shoes.

Out in the living room, I could hear glass shatter, and Pippa scream.

“I think they know,“ I said grabbing my sword and hatchet from the chair next to the door where I usually kept them at night next to my satchel. I slipped the hatchet into its holster on my belt so I could wield the sword with both hands.

I opened the door, and almost ran into Maria as she charged past with a shotgun in her hand.

“No guns!” I heard Beth yelling from further down the hall, her voice coming through the door to the garage, “We don't need to attract more of them!”

“It's a bit late for that!” Maria called back.

I wanted to find out what exactly was going on, and when someone was planning to wake us up and let us know about it, but it didn't seem like the right time. I followed Maria to the living room, sword in my right hand, and found that one of the windows at the side of the house was broken, and a zed with a puffy maroon and yellow ski jacket and a black knit cap on his head was trying to crawl in. Pippa was fighting the creature with the rounded end of her crowbar.

Judging from the living room, we were pretty well surrounded. I could see three more zeds coming up behind the one Pippa was fighting. Maria was using her shotgun to cover two more on the deck who were trying to pound their way through the sliding glass door. I could not see them, but I could hear at least one more pounding on the plywood covering the dining room window.

A few feet to Pippa's right was another window where two more zeds, an Asian woman, and a man who may have been Native American (or he may just have had his flesh dried out like the one outside the bedroom) seemed transfixed by the oil lamp that had been left burning in front of them. A few feet to the right of that window, a person with the tattered remains of a full ski mask was pounding on that window.

Pippa dealt her ski zombie a blow to the head with her crowbar, and must have finally caused enough damage to its brain, because it collapsed like a marionette with his strings cut. Unfortunately another two were right there to take its place. Pippa, feeling outmatched, backed away from that window over towards the window with the oil lamp.

Gerry and Beth came shuffling into the room, each holding the end of a sheet of plywood, and headed for the broken window with it, “A little help!” cried Gerry.

I saw what he meant, two zeds, both men in winter clothes, were trying to crawl through the window. They could not put the board in place with the two monsters sticking their arms through the hole. One of them was actually trying to pull itself up through the window.

I raised my sword (there was clearance in the high ceilinged living room of the cabin), and went towards the broken window. I brought the sword down as hard as I could on zed the window sill's arms. I could feel the crunch of its arm bones break up the length of the sword. I did not cut off the monster's arms, but it did make him fall backwards away from the window, his arms hanging from strips of flesh that the sword did not quite cut through.

I drew the sword back towards me, and then drove the flat end of the sword straight out and down into the face of the other zed at the window. The edge caught the thing right in the nose, and must have scored a critical hit because the thing stumbled backwards and fell to the ground.

Gerry and Beth came up, barely giving me time to move, and slammed the plywood up against the broken hole.

“The nails and hammers are still in the dining room!” Gerry yelled.

I started in that direction, but saw a flash of Sharon's red hair as she disappeared through the door. She returned a few seconds later with a hammer and a box of nails. Gerry and Beth held the plywood up to the broken window while started nailing it in place.

From the back of the house I heard glass break. One of the zeds had just broken into the study or one of the bedrooms. I started in that direction when the sound of breaking glass came from somewhere much closer.

I turned in the direction of the noise to see Pippa backing away from the window she had moved to. The Native American looking zombie was reaching through the now open window for her, but instead grabbed the burning oil lamp. The lamp fell over and shattered, splashing oil over the top of the shot bookcase it had been sitting on, and into the face of the zombie. The oil caught fire before it could douse the burning wick, and the top of the bookshelf burst into flames, as did the zombie's face.

The flaming zombie backed away, not seeming to be so much in pain, as just surprised to find most of its senses suddenly overridden by the fire. The Asian zombie did not seem to care, and still tried to reach in, its hands splashing in the flaming oil, setting both its arms and the window curtains on fire.

“There's an extinguisher in the garage!” Gerry yelled to me, still holding his end of the plywood up while Sharon drove nails through it and into the window frame.

I took off down the hall towards the garage. As I passed the master bedroom, I saw that the leather skinned ghoul had broken through the window, and was trying to pull itself up and into the cabin. I briefly debated whether or not to try and stop it from entering, but decided that it would not make a difference if the cabin burnt down.

The door to the garage was sitting open, and I could see light shining from an electric lantern sitting by the pile of plywood boards. I looked around, for the fire extinguisher. No, I never bothered to look for it before, why would I? I mean, it was only a house full of candles, oil lamps, and a fireplace that was lit twenty-four hours a day.

After about a half a minute I spotted the small red cylinder mounted on the wall over a dusty, but otherwise immaculate, workbench. I pulled it from its brackets, and headed back into the house.

I passed Beth and Gerry as they were coming back down the hall for more wood to block up the windows with. As I passed the master bedroom I saw that the leather zombie was still stuck halfway in and halfway out of the window.

Entering the living room I found that the fire had completely engulfed the bookshelf thanks to the Asian zombie's spreading the lamp oil around, and was spreading out onto the think carpeting which apparently had been made from something highly flammable.

“There's one in the bedroom!” I called to Sharon, who, hammer in hand, took off down the hallway

In what should have been a heroic movie, I leaned my sword up against the couch, strode up to the fire, raised the extinguisher in my right hand, pulled the pin with my left aimed, and squeezed the trigger. There was a little puff of white, and nothing else.

I looked at the red canister in my hand stupidly for a moment. I raised the little gauge up to my face and saw the little yellow needle was not in the small green section which read “FULL”, but in the larger red section that read “EMPTY” and “VACIO”, which I assume means empty in Spanish. The big white section between the red and green sections read “DISCARD OR REPLACE extinguisher if pointer shows red”

“Shit!” I cursed, and threw the extinguisher aside in anger.

“What?” asked Maria, who was still watching the sliding glass door. Strangely, the zeds at it seemed to be edging their way along the window towards the side of the house, towards the fire.

“It's empty, or needs to be recharged or something,” I yelled, “It doesn't fucking work!”

There was a blanket on the couch, I grabbed it and started trying to beat out the flames with it. I may as well have tried to use a handkerchief for all the good it did. The fire continued it's march out onto the carpet, and up the wall to the high ceiling.

“What do we do?” Pippa yelled.

Gerry and Beth came back into the room, carrying another piece of plywood, but when they saw that I was trying to put out the growing fire with a blanket that was smoldering from its repeated dips into the flame, Gerry let go of the board.

The plywood thumped against the carpet, and then again a half a second later as the side that Beth had been holding slipped out of her hands. She cursed as the rough edge of the board scraped across her fingers.

We looked at each other, we looked at the spreading fire, we looked at the now half a dozen zeds reaching into the fire as the smell of burnt pork filled the cabin, and I think it was at that point we all came to the conclusion that we had just lost our sanctuary. The only thing left for us now was to salvage as much as we could before being overwhelmed by fire or the undead, or indeed flaming undead.

Beth and Maria went out front to make sure the area around the Excursions were clear. They were still going to try and be stealthy, not wasting ammo, or attracting any more zeds than necessary by firing guns. While they did that, the rest of us started running around the house trying to grab anything we could and run it out to the cars.

Gerry and I concentrated on the kitchen, being wary with each pass through the living room that the fire was spreading more and more. We threw as much of the canned food as we could into boxes, and lugged out the big bottles of drinking water.

Pippa and Sharon worked on a lot of the rest of the house, grabbing our sleeping bags, clothes, weapons, tools; it was pretty haphazard what they took, but then we really did not have a lot of time to decide what should and shouldn't go.

On one trip back in, the fire had now spread so far that tongues of flame were licking at the back of the couch, I passed Pippa carrying a box of records, “The record player!” she yelled at me.

I looked, and the record player was still sitting on the table next to the couch. It couldn't possibly be more than a couple of minutes before the flames enveloped the couch and spread over to the record player.

“What about it?” I asked, breathing heavily, the smoke burning my lungs and throat. My eyes were streaming water, and felt like they have been on fire themselves.

“Save it!” she pleaded, adjusting the box in her arms.

“Pippa, we need to save the food!” I said, realizing that I was wasting time arguing with her. As if to punctuate this, there was a loud crack and a crash as the section of wall above the burning hole that had been a window only a few minutes ago collapsed on the the flaming undead hoard forming below it.

“Save it!” Pippa half begged, half demanded in the way that only teenage girls can really pull off effectively.

Rather than argue about it any further, I detoured away from the doorway to the dining room, and went back to the table next to the couch. I could feel the heat from the fire, and was slightly amazed that the disc currently on the player didn't seem to be warping or melting at all. I could see that the back of the couch was catching now. We only had another couple of minutes before the fire would block our pathway to the kitchen.

I slammed the lid of the record player shut, disc still on the turntable, and grabbed it by its handle. The player was heavier than it looked, not quite it's-called-“portable”-because-they-stuck-a-handle-on-it heavy, but heavy for its size.

I ran down the hallway, out into the garage, and outside to where the Excursions were sitting with their doors open. The backs of both cars were completely full, and the back seat of the brown excursion was almost full, certainly too full for anyone to ride in.

It seems that not all of the zeds were attracted to the fire. I looked over just in time to see Maria strike a female zombie in the face with the butt of her shotgun. In front of the excursions Sharon had apparently just slain a zed with her Uruk-Hai sword, and I saw Beth charging a fat bald zombie with a hatchet raised high above her head.

“One more trip, “Maria yelled as I headed back inside, “We're going to be overwhelmed in a minute here!” she drove the butt of the shotgun into the forehead of the zed that she had knocked to the ground with her previous blow.

I ran back to the living room where Pippa and Gerry were standing just past the edge of the hall. They were staring at the fire, which had now crossed the entire room, and had met up with the much smaller blaze in the fireplace.

“That's it,” Gerry said.

The fire must have absolutely have engulfed the roof outside, because, as if to punctuate Gerry's sentence, one of the beams holding up the roof collapsed in a splintery crash and a spray of sparks that made us retreat back into the hallway. A large chunk of the roof followed it.

Though I did not hear it, something in the collapse had shattered the sliding glass doors, and four zeds who had been on the back deck were now shambling into the house, seemingly still more interested in the fire than in us. It's too bad that their friends out front did not have the same pyromaniacal interests.

No words were exchanged, we all simply turned and headed back for the garage. As we passed the now smoke filled master bedroom, I noticed that my coat was sitting on the floor. It looked like Sharon had probably grabbed it, but dropped it on her way out. I grabbed it now.

As I entered the garage, I heard a gunshot. Maria had held back as long as she was going to, and now started shooting the zeds closest to her. I don't blame her, there were a lot of them now. It was like a whole cemetery of them had been roaming the shore of the lake, and we just happened to be unfortunate enough to be in their path.
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Black smoke trailed up into the air, and I could see tongues of flame licking skyward. Some of the trees on that side of the house looked like they may have caught fire, but I don't know if that is from the burning cabin or the flaming zombies which were, presumably, still wandering around over there.

“Let's move!” ordered Maria before shotting a shirtless zombie in the face.

Maria and Gerry got into the brown Excursion with Maria behind the wheel. The rest of us piled into the black car, Beth behind the wheel, Pippa in the front seat, and Sharon and I in back.

We started slowly rolling down the driveway, gravel crunching beneath the tires. We did not want to stay around to watch yet another home burn down. We also did not want to be overwhelmed by the seemingly increasing number of zeds in the woods, nor did we want to be trapped in what was probably going to become a forest fire.

We were almost to the road when Pippa gasped, “Your bag!”

“What?” I asked.

“Your bag! The one with your book in it!”

I looked at Sharon, “Didn't you grab my satchel?” I asked.

Sharon's eyes were wide, looking like a combination of fear and shock, “No, “she said, “No, I didn't! Oh God, I'm sorry.”

I was angry and sad. I was doing my best not to show it though. I knew that Sharon didn't do it on purpose, but the thought of losing my journal, and Tara's gifts was hard to accept. I would have though, my friends are more important than this book.

“It's okay, “I said, looking down at the floor and trying not to sound as hurt as I felt.

“I'll get it!” Pippa declared, and threw open her door.

“What? No!” Yelled Beth.

Without letting Beth stop, Pippa leaped down out of the vehicle, and started running back towards the burning cabin. She had her crowbar clutched in her right hand, and as she ran by a zed, she swung it upside the thing's skull, knocking it over.

Beth hit the brakes, and the wheels ground against the gravel. I threw my door open, and climbed out, “Phillipa Webster, get back here! It's too dangerous!” I yelled.

“I'll be right back!” She yelled back to me.

“Fuck!” I yelled, not wanting her to get killed for my stupid journal.

I reached back into the car, and grabbed one of the swords from behind the backseat, where they had been thrown, and took off after her.

The zed that Pippa had crowbarred was on its hands and knees, trying to get back up. I swung my sword down at it, and caught it in the back of the neck. The force of the heavy blade tore threw the rotten flesh of the undead monster, and the head actually came off. My first one swing decapitation; achievement unlocked! I did not have time to be proud of my accomplishment though, I kept running for the house.

Pippa disappeared into the garage; smoke was now pouring out from the door to the hallway As I approached the garage, which actually had a pretty good sized assortment of bodies lying off to the right of it where Beth and Maria had been slaughtering them while we salvaged what we could. There were more shambling up now, but none close enough to be worth taking a swing at until I knew that Pippa was safe.

I bounded through the garage, and into the house. The smoke was thicker now, and it had a funny smell that I can best describe as toxic. I don't know what else had caught fire, but it was awful.

“Pippa!” I tried to yell, but what came out was a strangled gargling thing that I'm sure didn't carry far over the noise of the fire.

I couldn't see more than a couple of feet in front of me, although I could see a faint glow at the end of the hallway. That glow was the fire, and it was getting brighter, getting closer.

I moved as fast as I dared towards the living room, and towards the door to the master bedroom. The heat was horrible. I heard something popping; I don't know if we left some ammo in the living room, or maybe there were some of the stove's butane canisters left in the kitchen that were exploding. Whatever it is, I know that I did not want to get any closer to it than I had to.

I faintly heard coughing, and saw a slender silhouette stagger out into the smoke. I raised my sword, thinking at first that it might be a zed, but then realized that it had something large hanging from it, and that it was the source off the coughing. It was Pippa.

Pippa crossed the hallway, rebounded off of the opposite wall, and then collapsed to the floor. I rushed towards her, into the heat. The fire was now at the end of the hall, the entire living room was cut off from us here. Something crashed loud in the flames, probably more of the house coming down.

I knelt down next to her, “Pippa, you okay?” I asked, and then coughed.

Pippa coughed a reply, “I got it,” she was succumbing to the smoke; I had to get us out of here, “It's heavy, how do you carry that?”

I took my bag's shoulder strap, and pulled it from around Pippa's neck, and then slung it over my own, “Come on, young lady, “I said in my best dad voice, which can't have been too great since I was choking in the smoke, “Let's get you out of here. You are in for such a spanking,”

“Pervert,” she said weakly.

I put my left arm around Pippa, and pulled her up, using my sword as a cane for leverage. Pippa is not a heavy girl, but between her, my satchel, and the smoke making my lungs feel like they were full of burning steel wool I was having trouble.

Moving back down the hallway to the garage and fresher air was a slow process. Pippa was barely helping at all, and it was a half walk half drag sort of affair. I could feel the heat at my back as we went, it felt like the fire was keeping pace with me even though I know that probably is not true. I didn't look back to verify it one way or the other.

Out into the garage, and even though it was smoky too, it still felt like fresh alpine air to me compared to the toxic gas that made up the air inside the house. I did not have time to enjoy the air though, as I saw two figures at the garage door. An adult and what appeared to be a child.

Crap, a kid zed. I've only come across a couple of these, but I don't like them. Not only are they children, but they seem to be faster that the adults. The kid charged us, and with Pippa in my left arm, and my satchel under my right I was not going to be able to swing the sword effectively, which is to say that my swing would be even more awkward than normal.

I kicked out at the approaching zombie child, it was a girl with filthy blond hair, and hit her in the face. I must kick harder than I realize, as the little sprat went tumbling backwards onto the ass of her dirty brown corduroys. Not even stunned she was back on her feet before I had gone three steps.

I heard four pops, two followed by a half second pause, and then two more. The little zed girl's charge towards me turned into a face plant on the concrete of the garage. I looked at a the doorway of the garage and saw a new silhouette, a short slender one that had to be Beth O'Hara. There was a heaped silhouette on the ground that was the other zombie that had been coming my way.

“Hurry up!” Beth called to me, and turned and fired the rest of her clip into the zeds coming at her from in front of the house. I saw her shadow eject the spent clip, and stuff it in her pants pocket before pulling a fresh one out of her waistband.

I pushed forward, out of the garage and onto the gravel driveway. Beth put her right arm around Pippa to help me hold her up, and together we rushed her to the waiting Excursions where Sharon and Gerry were standing. Sharon had her sword, and Gerry the baseball bat that he has taken a liking to (“I like the feel of it, you know?” he told me). There was one dead ghoul by the side of the driveway, but most of them still seemed to be more interested in the burning house than in us.

I loaded Pippa int the backseat of the SUV, and then got in myself, trapping her between myself, and Sharon once she climbed back in. Gerry jogged back to the other Excursion, and got in while Beth slid back behind the wheel of ours.

“Are you two okay?” Beth asked as we started to roll forward again

I looked at my satchel sitting heavily on my lap, and then over at Pippa; her face was stained with soot. She had her eyes half open, and smiled at me. She took a deep but raspy breath, “Yeah, I'm fine.”

“That was a stupid thing to do!” I told her harshly, and then started coughing.

“I didn't want you to lose your book,“ Pippa replied, still smiling, “It seems important to you.”

She's right of course. I don't know what I would have done if I lost everything I've written here. I mean, I guess I would start another one, but to lose all of this and our home in the same day would have been really hard. To lose Pippa would have been a lot harder though.

We all kept an eye on Pippa for the next day. If the smoke had any lasting effects on her they are not apparent, and I don't know what we would do about them anyway. We haven't the equipment or know-how to deal with some sort of respiratory issue.

It was decided that we would get back on the interstate and keep heading generally north. We no longer had a goal, we didn't know where we are going, All we really know is that it is has been really lonely out here until now.

We have spent the last week on the road, spending the nights in roadside motels, a gas station garage, and one night in a rest area (where the vending machines were infested with bugs). We're all trying to stay in good spirits (except for Maria, who is being worse than ever), and Sharon and Pippa have formed a real connection; they're like sisters now.

That first night we could see a cloud of smoke rising into the sky. I think we have turned Daisy Lake into the black smudge that we were afraid that we would find.

It has been really slow going through the mountains. Most of the snow is gone, even up there, but there's less room to maneuver around obstacles, and we have had a couple of close calls trying to get around some small rock slides and places where the road has washed out.

For the first couple of days there was a river running alongside the highway, so water was not an issue. We were getting that fresh mountain spring water that used to be three dollars a bottle for free. Of course we are still boiling it just in case.

It was today that we came across the first signs of there being other survivors out here since Pippa came into our lives. We are in Oregon now, a week of driving to go as far as would have taken us a day of really hard driving before the end of the world.

We were driving along Five, just following the interstate like we have been; we had the windows rolled down because it was a nice day, and the air up here doesn't stink as much of the dead as it did back in Covenant. Pippa was sitting in the front seat, and letting her hand lazily play in the air currents when she suddenly perked up.

“Do you hear that?” Pippa asked.

“What?” asked Beth.

“I think I hear engines or something,” Pippa looked out the car window and pointed, “Look! Smoke!”

I could see the smoke she was pointed at; off in the distance, maybe a mile off the road there was a thin trail of smoke rising off of something. Engines and smoke would certainly seem to indicate life alright, after all it was a plume of smoke that had led Pippa to us.

“What do you think?” I asked Beth and Sharon.

“I think we should check it out. There may be more survivors,” said Sharon, smiling.

“They may not be friendly though,” Beth cautioned.

Beth flashed the headlights of the Black Excursion to get the attention of Gerry and Maria who were driving the brown one in front of us, and then she pulled off to the side of the road.

Maria was against investigating, in fact she almost seemed afraid of it. I don't suppose I can blame her, I felt apprehensive about it too; the memories of dealing with the Hell's Postmen may be coming up on a year old, but they are still fresh to me.

In the end, we decided to investigate. We were going to run out of fuel eventually, so we were going to have to settle down sometime. Of course it almost seemed like Maria and Beth were right, and that it was a bad idea.

The town we were in was little more than a wide spot in the road by odd the name of Palma; this was really the kind of place that you would miss if you happened to blink while driving by it. It looks like the kind off place urban dwellers think they want to escape to, and local teenagers want to escape from.

One of the things that first struck me about the town, and I realized that this had applied to the highway going by it, was that it was clear of debris. I don;t just mean that the roads were clear of abandoned or wrecked cars, but that it was clean. There was not even any of the usual wrappers and bits of newspaper in the gutter that defined some parts of Covenant.

As we headed towards the trail of smoke a chorus of motors sounded. From behind a laundromat at the corner ahead of us a column of ten motorcycles pulled out, and headed right towards us.

“Oh shit,” Beth cursed quietly.

Gerry slowed his Excursion in front of us, and Beth followed his lead to prevent rear-ending him. The bikes separated into two columns, and sped towards us, passing us five on each side. As they flew past I could see that they had flaming swords painted on the sides of their shiny black helmets, and they also all had swords on their backs.

I only had a momentary glance at them as the bikers flew past, but these swords did not look like the crude cleaver-like affairs that I had picked up at that comic shop, but more like proper broadswords; similar in style to the ones painted on their helmets.

“They have guns on their bikes!” Pippa yelped, “like shotguns.” They did too, each biker had a lever-action rifle in a makeshift holster on the right side of their cycles where they could grab it easily.

The sound of the motorcycle engines quieted down a bit as the bikes continued past us, and then surged again as they turned around and came back. Once again five bikes came up each side of us, but the front of each column pulled in front of Gerry, and they slowed to match our speed.

“Stop the car!” ordered the biker rolling along even with Beth's window.

“What do we do?” asked Pippa, her eyes wide with fear.

“We do what they say,” Beth said, her face stony, as she slowed the car.

One of the bikers must have said the same thing to Gerry, because we could see the taillights of the brown Excursion in front of us flare as he slowed it to a stop. When we had stopped, the same biker who had told Beth to stop told her to turn off the engine, and throw the keys out the window. Since the bikers were now all holding their rifles Beth again complied.

The bikers had surrounded us all but from behind; forming a near circle about eight feet away from us, far enough to stay out of our reach, but still close enough to not miss with their guns.

“I'm scared, “ whispered Pippa.

“It's going to be okay, hon, “Sharon tried to sound reassuring, but sounded terrified herself, “If they wanted to kill us they could have just attacked us.”

“Unless they want our supplies undamaged, “said Beth quietly.

“Step out of the car slowly!” The biker even with Beth's window ordered, “Keep your hands in plain sight!”

Again we complied, except for Maria, who jumped out of the passenger side of the brown excursion with a Glock in her hand.

“Drop the gun!” yelled a couple of the bikers, as the four nearest Maria trained their rifles on her.

“Fuck you/!” Maria replied loudly, “I have not come all this way to be executed by a bunch of fucking punk gangbangers! I didn't let the fucking Postmen do it, and I'll be Goddamned if I'm going to let whoever the hell you are do it!”

“Maria!” Pippa screamed. That one word was all the pleading she needed to do to get her point across. Maria looked back at her, glared at her, and then a look of resignation spread over her face.

Maria took her finger off of the trigger, pointed the barrel skyward, and very slowly placed the handgun on the ground, and kicked it towards one of the bikers with her boot clad foot.

“Thank you, “said one of the biker's towards the front, a large man of African descent with a deep booming voice, “Please come to the front of the vehicles. If no one does anything stupid then no one has to get hurt.”

We complied. Sharon grabbed my left hand as we assembled in front of the brown Excursion, and Pippa grabbed my right. They both squeezed my hands hard enough to hurt, and Pippa was trembling like she had been dumped in the antarctic with only a windbreaker on.

Fury burned on Maria's face as she stared down the bikers. Beth did her best to show no emotion at all, remaining stony faced with her jaw clenched. Gerry was more like the rest of us; maybe not actually scared, but he definitely looked uncertain as to how events would unfold.

After the noise of the motorcycles it seemed eerie for it to be so quiet now, but then I realized that it wasn't exactly silent. In the distance I could barely hear a couple of noises. One was a rhythmic pinging, like two pieces of metal being struck together repeatedly. The other noise sounded like it may have been music. I looked and realized the smoke trail must only be a few blocks away from where we were and realized that the source of the smoke must also be the source of the noise.

The large black biker reached into his leather jacket, and pulled out a small radio, “They are secured, it's safe to approach,” he said into the front of the device.

I could hear a motorcycle rumble to life not too far away. The noise grew louder as it grew closer, coming up from behind us. A shining silver and black motorcycle roared up along the driver's side of the two cars, and pulled to a stop a short distance in front of us.

The driver dismounted. He was clad in all black leather, and had a different helmet than the standard brain buckets all of his friends were wearing. His helmet covered his whole head, and had a piece that ran up over his nose and between his eyes, making his helmet look like a motorcycle helmet crossed with something a knight might wear. On the sides of the helmet were painted the same flaming swords as the other bikers.

The leader of the bikers approached us, and two of the other bikers parted to allow him to pass. He stood before out group, looking each of us up and down, he walked from Gerry and one end down to Pippa at the other, and then back to center, not speaking the whole time.

Finally, after a few more moments contemplation, he approached me. I stared into the dark eye sockets of his helmet as he finally spoke to me, “Tell me son, have you accepted Jesus into your heart?” His voice was smooth and gentle; it totally jarred with his appearance.

I was stunned. Of all the questions I would expect to be asked by the leader of a motorcycle gang, that was probably somewhere down around “What's your favorite cereal?”.

“This should not be a difficult question, son, “ the helmeted man asked again, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”

I looked from the dark pits of his helmet's eyes holes to the handle of the sword sticking up over her left shoulder, and back.

“Yes...?” I finally answered, more of a question than a statement.

The helmeted man stared at me, or at least I assume he was staring at me, I couldn't actually see his eyes, for a moment. After a seemingly infinite silence, he slowly reached up and removed his helmet, revealing a youngish man (maybe mid-thirties) with short neat blond hair that was only slightly matted by his helmet. A short beard covered his cheeks and chin.

The blond man smiled at us, “Good. Welcome to Palma. I am Reverend Alisdair Thomas of The Church of Christ's Light.”

“Wait a second, “ Gerry said, still sounding a bit nervous, “You're a preacher? What about all this?” Gerry motioned with his hands to the other bikers and their bikes.

“Christ accepts all who accept him. You should not judge people based solely on their appearance.”

“No offense, Reverend, “Sharon began, “But the last people we met up with who looked like you tried to kill us a few times.”

“You have no fear of that here. You are welcome to join us for as long as you like, all we ask is that you abide by our rules, share what supplies you may have, and do your fair share of work.”

“And if we refuse?” asked Maria, still looking angry and distrustful.

“Then you may leave with our blessings and prayers,” said Reverend Thomas, “Please, talk it over amongst yourselves, there is no rush.”

With a wave of his hands, the bikers that had surrounded our cars left their bikes to join their leader. They looked to be praying.

As a group, we moved in between the two Excursions to talk. Our discussion was short and heated. Maria was totally against staying, Beth and Gerry both felt uncertain, but were willing to try it. Pippa was all for checking them out, as was Sharon, but not with as much exuberance.

For the record, I've never been much of a religious person. I obviously believe in God, I pray occasionally, and frequently my prayers seem to fall on deaf ears. Reverend Thomas seemed like a nice person, but how nice could he be if he runs a biker gang? Still, I didn't want to be on the same side as Maria, so I agreed with everyone else that we should at least check it out.

Reverend Thomas, Alisdair as he insisted we call him, was pleased when we told him of our decision, “I am glad. God has sent you to me for a reason, and I hope that I can live up to it.”

Alisdair and his followers remounted their bikes while we got back into our cars. They led us through the small, and pretty immaculate town (still no litter, no abandoned cars, not even any broken windows) to their church and sanctuary.

The Church of Christ's Light was one of those mega churches before the end of everything. It seemed a bit odd to me that a little town like Palma should need a church that could seat over a thousand people. Aside from the size of the building itself there was the property it was on; the church sits at the center of a huge piece of land, a good portion of it has been paved over for parking, but a lot of it was probably still kept green and covered with grass.

I don't think I'm describing the building well, it's more like the size of an elementary school than a church. The only way you can really tell it is a church, aside from the signage, is the large bell tower that towers a good extra three stories above the two story structure. There is a large metal tower, likely a radio antenna, running up the side of the bell tower. I guessed that the view from up there is stunning.

The grassy areas around the church, no doubt freshly uncovered from their blanket of snow by the same spring warmth that cost us our winter home, is being plowed up and crops are being planted to feed to survivors. It's basically what was going to happen with Mallville's Center Park. As we drove up I could see people out in what were becoming fields muscling a plow through the earth.

Around the edge of the church property is a tall black iron fence, it is about ten feet tall, and makes the place look a little creepier than it really needs to. Still, I'm sure that fence has come in handy for them. The gate was being watched over by a man in blue jeans and a denim shirt, and a woman in black leather pants and a white t-shirt. Next to the gate sat a motorcycle with a leather jacket draped over the seat and a flaming sword adorned helmet hanging from the handlebars. As we approached, they rolled back the gate and allowed us in; they both waved at us as we went past.

The big sign proclaiming this to be:

The Church of Christ's Light
All God's Children Are Welcome
Sunday Services at 8am and 10am
Alisdair Thomas, Reverend

next to the gate is one of those kind that have a changeable message board on it. It is the kind of message board that you pop the letters into and out of; I am kind of surprised that it wasn't the digital kind that could display moving images. The message on the board is:

WE ARE NOT FORSAKEN
THIS TOO SHALL PASS
TOGETHER WE SHALL OVERCOME

We were led to the church parking lot. The lot looks big enough to hold maybe three hundred cars, but is nowhere near full. Aside from out cars, there are a couple dozen motorcycles, three RVs, a bright white school bus with “Church of Christ's Light” painted under an image of what I think is supposed to be Jesus on a motorcycle.

There are towers erected all around the church property, with guy wires running down from the tops of them. Each one had a bladed spinning cylinder on them. There are probably ten of them in total, but I haven't walked all the way around the church to make a total count of them yet.

I must have looked awestruck as I looked at the immense church building, because the large black man who had summoned Alisdair to us approached me, “Impressive isn't it?” he asked.

“Huh?” I asked, “Um, yeah.”

“People tried to stop this place from being built, said Palma did'nt need something so large, and that it was not a good use of the land. They even accused Alisdair of being a fraud because he rode a motorcycle; said that this was going to be a biker club, but God answered the Rev's prayers and it was built after all.” He said, pulling off his helmet and tucking it under his arm. His head was stubbly, like it hadn't been shaved in a few days. I'm not judging mind you, I've not done more than trim my beard with scissors in months.

“Did a lot of people come here when...” I trailed off. I'm never sure how to mention the end of the world in conversation.

“Some did, “said the biker, “but not as many as Al had hoped. Many people packed up and left, some killed themselves. Still, for awhile there there were about a hundred of us, now it's more like seventy.”

“What happened to the rest?” I asked.

“Some left, some fell in battle with the unholy.”

“The unholy?”

“It's what the Rev calls the zombies; says they're soulless abominations, affronts to God, and it is up to us to cleanse them from the Earth. We've been seeing more of them since spring came. I think a lot of survivors didn't make it through the winter,“ the big man said sadly.

It was then that Sharon came over and put her arm around my shoulders, “Are you making friends?” she asked.

“I'm sorry, I'm being rude, “ said the biker, “My name is Peter Atreyus, and you are?”

I introduced myself and Sharon to Peter, and then pointed out who each of the others were. He asked us where we were from, and how we ended up here. We told him briefly about Mallville, and how Pippa had joined us.

Peter seems very nice, and he answered a number of questions for us. The name of their motorcycle group is The Sword of Gabriel (hence the flaming swords on their helmets), and that they were founded by Alisdair as a fellowship group, but have now changed their focus to destroying the “unholy” (not a bad name really), and protecting his flock (the other survivors here). The towers with the spinning cylinders on them are VAWTs, Vertical Axis Wind Turbines, they provide enough power to the church to keep some lights going, to cook by, and to run the stereo I could hear playing music somewhere on the other side of the building. He also explained that the pinging noise I kept hearing in the distance was Marty Wagner, their blacksmith.

While Sharon and I were talking to Peter, Alisdair came over and offered to give us a quick tour of the place, saying that he would have someone give us a more thorough one after dinner. Those VAWTs must work pretty well (despite what Alisdair says), this place is a lot like Mallville was; it has lights and running water (even hot water), and that helps to create a sense of normalcy that all of the fireplace cooked foods and oldies music on the record player just could not do.

“How did you build those windmills?” I asked Alisdair as he showed us his office, and told us this is where he could usually be found when he was not out with the other Sword members.

“The church already had solar panels, it seems wasteful to let the sun's energy that God gives to us go to waste, but that wasn't enough to power everything all of the time, “Alisdair explained as we looked out the large window behind his desk. Through that window we could see the mountains, some woods, and a beautiful blue sky tinged with the oncoming sunset.

“So you made the windmills?” Sharon asked.

“We were told about them,” Alisdair explained, almost hesitantly, “There's another group of survivors up North, in a town called Lovelock.

Lovelock? Now why does that sound familiar to me? I've heard that name before.

“We talk to them by radio, they're a lot bigger than we are, and they talked us through how to build them. I am thankful that God provided us with their assistance, we might not have made it through the winter so easily without them.”

“If they are doing so well, why not just join up with them?” Maria asked.

“This is where God wants me to be,” Maria made a disbelieving half-cough when Alisdair said this, but he ignored it, ”This is where God sends lost sheep who need me. Sadly, some of them leave for Lovelock rather than stay here, but we pray for the safety of all who come through here, whether they stay or not.”

“Do you know if they make it or not?” asked Gerry.

“We do contact Lovelock by radio a few times a week, and yes, many of them do make it safely, although it is a weight on my heart that some do not. If, in your own time, you decide to leave, we will pray for you as well.”

The tour did not go on much longer than that. He showed us the back side of the church where we did see Marty Wagner, a caricature of a blacksmith if there ever was one with his leather apron and moustache, pounding away on a sword. The rock music I had been hearing was coming from a boombox near him, the one piece of electronic equipment in his little tented area, it's cord snaking back to a power outlet on the outside wall of the church.

I'm not familiar with the band he was listening to, but I liked it. The chorus went something like “You decide, who will you run to? Wrong or right, there is no reason for you to hide. Only love can change your life.” It's not death-metal or anything, but it was pretty hard rock to hear at a church. I found it strangely uplifting.

Everyone here seems very nice, no one has even tried to go through our cars yet, which tells me one of two things. One, they're not wanting for supplies. Two, they don't want us to get suspicious until it's too late.

Yes, I know, I shouldn't be so distrusting, but this is my family here. Sharon, Pippa, Beth, Gerry, and even Maria are like my brother and sisters (Well, Sharon's not like my sister anymore, that would be a bit squicky). They are all that I have, and even though we may not get along all the time, I still love them all, and would risk my life for any of them.

I'm going to stop for now, and go wash up with some soap and hot water before dinner. Maybe God has delivered us somewhere we can settle again now. Somewhere we can try and be happy. Wouldn't that be nice?

3 comments:

Viktim said...

Somewhere we can try and be happy. Wouldn't that be nice?

Happy? Happy is dangerous.


I'm scared.

Void Munashii said...

I think they deserve a bit of happy. Not too much, or I suppose the story would be over, but a bit.

VoltRabbit said...

The name of the other town rings a bell, something from a past conversation...

They definately deserve a bit of happy,but it also serves them right for not clearing out all the cabins around the lake. They could have killed them all like so many hibernating hornets.