Prisoner

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            Officer Erhardt’s polished black boots squeaked against the freshly cleaned rubber floor. An inmate, some girl he had never seen before, was still holding the mop. She averted her eyes as he marched past her and stood in front of a massive plexiglass and steel door, labeled 0286-A in bold black numbers at the top.  The interior was painted in a shade of baby blue, the lighting dimmed.           

            “Central, 0286,” Officer Erhardt said into the radio marked A-1 with yellow paint. He scratched at his mutton chops and waived the radio in the direction of the camera set above the door before attaching the radio back on his belt.

            A loud clank followed by an electrical hum echoed through the hall. The door slowly began to slide open. Officer Erhardt stood with his back to the wall until the door quit moving. This was the first door of twenty-four that separated him from the entrance of the prison and A-Unit where he was headed. Alpha was where they placed the violent offenders.

            “Living the life,” one officer said to another in passing; a row of inmates followed close behind him in single file.

            “Dumb asshole,” Erhardt said under his breath. “Never let an inmate walk behind you.”

            Down the hall, the door to the sergeants office swung open. The Sergeant stepped into the hallway, facing the doorway. Erhardt slapped the elevator call button and listened as Sergeant Rikke reprimanded one of the new recruits.

            “If I catch you with a chew in your mouth again boy, you’re fucked.” His eyes bulged from his head like they wanted to jump out and slap the poor guy. He had a wild stare even when he was being casual. Yanking the leash in his left hand, he summoned Bogie to his side and slammed the door.  He turned and looked in Erhardt’s direction and smiled. The German shepherd even looked to be smiling at him.

Sergeant Rikke was different from the rest of the officers. He wore baggy cargo pocket pants that were grey, instead of the black straight leg slacks everyone else wore. He stuffed his pants into his boots and wore his shirt un-tucked like a jacket. He was also the owner of the prison guard dog Bogie who made a point to defecate in inmate units. It was more than Rikke’s looks though; he had a confidence that was louder than the rest of the cocky bastards under the prisons employ. He was an asshole. The Sergeant and his dog slowly strode toward Erhardt who nodded at the Sergeant and moved his attention to the elevator.

“Officer Erhardt, how ya doing?” The elevator doors opened.

“I’m fine, Sergeant. You?” Erhardt asked as he stepped into the elevator.

The Sergeant pointed in the elevator and snapped his fingers; Bogie pranced right in followed by the Sergeant himself.

The Sergeant pulled a can of tobacco from his cargo pocket and tapped it vigorously before putting a wad in his bottom lip.

“Chew?” The Sergeant asked Erhardt.

“No thanks Sergeant. I don’t chew.”

The Sergeant shrugged his heavy shoulders. “Suit yourself.”

            “Going up?” The Sergeant asked.

            Erhardt scowled. “You know damn well I’m headed up. You put me in Alpha.”

            The Sergeant laughed. “I told you last month. You’ll be in Alpha for the rest of your career. I’ll make you hate them pieces of shit until you do what’s right.” The Sergeant stepped closer to Erhardt. “Nobody invited ever refused. You think you’re better than us? A guy like you fits right in, strict, loyal, tough, and hard. You’ll see we’re not wrong after enough time in there goes by.”

            Officer Erhardt shook his head. “I won’t just smack around inmates to give you what you want. You’ve got the wrong guy.” The elevator doors opened.

            “Have a nice day,” the Sergeant laughed and smiled at Erhardt, who stepped into the hallway off the elevator. After the doors closed Erhardt flipped a bird in that direction.

            Most of the doors were open during shift change, and Erhardt made his way down a series of hallways that bent in rigid angles. Every hallway on the floor converged to a small plexiglass room with monitors and a door control panel for the entire third floor. Inside operating the station was Officer Switzer. He called out of a tiny mail slot on the door that only he could flip open.

            “Hey Wolverine!” he called out. It was the nickname attributed to Officer Erhardt ever since he had grown mutton chops.

            Erhardt waved at Switzer and yelled back, “I’m in A-Unit. Open her up for me in a sec.” Switzer saluted Erhardt and spun his chair around to face the control panel.

            Once Erhardt got to the first of the two doors of the entrance he noticed inside the partition between the two doors was another officer who was kicking the unit door and yelling expletives into his radio. He could hear Switzer’s laugh echoing through the concrete hall.

            The door in-front of Erhardt slid open, allowing him to join the other officer. Only one door could be opened at a time between a unit and its adjoining hallway. As Erhardt approached he noticed it was Officer Ray, the joke of the institution. He was about five foot tall and weighed a whopping ninety pounds wet. He had one hell of a mouth that got him in trouble in the units and on the streets. On more than one occasion he showed up to work with a black eye. Rumor had it an inmate even dangled him from the second floor railing of the mezzanine once.

            “Awe shit,” Erhardt muttered as he identified Ray. “You my partner?”

            Officer Ray turned around. “Fuck no, I’m support. Here’s your pod sheet.” Ray shoved the sheet of paper on Erhardt’s chest and walked out of the partition before the door could close.

            “Thank God,” Erhardt said, waiting for the door to Alpha to pop open. The inside door unlocked and popped open on command from third floor control, unlike the rest of the doors in the prison that slid open and close automatically. The officers were responsible for the security of the inside door and would be reprimanded if a lieutenant came into the unit and it was unlocked.

            Entering the unit was always strange. New inmates came in and old ones were moved out every day, so it was hard to tell what sort of crowd would be inside. There were familiar days and then there were days where an officer had to start all over again and retrain the inmates to the way things were done in a unit. Officer Erhardt was one of the few strict officers who never let a rule fly. Inmates knew that when he walked in that popped open door, today was not business as usual.

            “Hey Robo-Cop is here,” some of the inmates started to shout as he walked into view. During a shift change all inmates were locked in cells lining the walls around the unit. The name calling and yelling were not to incite Erhardt, they knew better; it was more of a way to warn the rest of the unit that he was here.

            “Shut the fuck up,” Erhardt yelled. “I don’t want to hear shit from you today. My head hurts and we’re all going to have a nice calm day.” He started to march around the unit with his left hand tucked behind his back, gripping his belt. As he walked by each cell door, he looked through each small window and searched for signs of contraband and rule breaking, yanking the door to make sure it was secure before moving to the next. All was clear so far, so he made his way down to the officer’s desk where his partner for the day sat leaning back in a plastic chair with his feet propped up on the desk.

****

            Halfway through the shift, the units with two officers send one officer at a time to relieve officers for lunch break. The officers alternate until everyone has received his half-hour break. Officer Erhardt, being Alpha officer 1, had to relieve the G/H control pod. G/H was a control room like the third floor control, only smaller. It controlled the doors into and out of units G and H, the cells inside G and H, and the nurse offices inside G unit. These officers who work this station must also patrol the G and H units every half hour, using their radios to have central control open and close the doors for them.

            G unit is the medical unit. It’s where the nurses provide diabetic inmates with insulin, place the sick inmates for care, and where piss testing is performed. H unit is considered intake. It’s a place where the handicapped individuals may choose to be segregated from other inmates and where all freshly booked inmates go until a counselor can evaluate them to decide which unit they belong in.

            On this particular day G unit had three inmates in medical lock up. An elderly woman on an oxygen machine, a guy with a broken arm, and a new guy they believed was coming off of dope. Officer Erhardt had made his way up to the post and was beginning his first patrol. The nurses were all away at lunch and he was the only employee in the units.

            As he made his way into the medical lockup room he could hear a loud scraping noise coming from the cell at the far end, home to the doper. Officer Erhardt peered through the window, but he could see nothing in the cell. He could only hear the noise.

            “Hey where are you!” He yelled. No response. Erhardt pulled the chart off the door.

            “Steve Makke,” he said aloud. The chart read that he had been arrested for stealing steak from Giant Eagle.

Inmate is dangerous to unit population.

Drugs are still in system.

            “Hey Steve I need you to step where I can see you,” Erhardt said as he slipped the chart back into the door slot. The scraping sound ceased but the guy didn’t enter visibility.

            “Steve if you don’t open this door, I’m going to open it and come in. You don’t want that do you?” Erhardt grabbed his radio and waited a moment. “Last chance,” he said. Nothing happened.

            “Central, pop G-523.” A moment later the cell door slid open. Officer Erhardt shimmied in sideways to face the blind-spot. Steve Makke leapt from the sink. In one hand he held a toothbrush that had the back-end sharpened to a point; in the other hand he held a broken piece of the metal mirror which was supposed to be bolted to the wall.

            Erhardt quickly reacted, grabbing Steve’s arms by the wrist as Steve came down on-top of him. The little junkie was no match. Erhardt jolted the inmate backward into the wall, knocking the weapons from his hands. He tossed Steve to the floor causing him to smack his head off the steel frame of the suspended bed. Blood began to soak the inmate’s hair.

            “Code brown, code brown…code white, code white,” Erhardt yelled into the radio. Brown was for inmate attacking an officer and white for medical emergency. The first one to respond to the call was the Sergeant. His office was across the hall from G unit. The Sergeant stormed in and paused at Steve on the floor with Erhardt standing outside the cell. His gaze wandered to the weapons on the floor.

            “Anfallen!” The Sergeant yelled. It must have been some word for attack because Bogie instantly jumped into the cell and began to ravage the barely conscious inmate. The Sergeant loomed over the horror, Erhardt yelling for it to stop. The German shepherd didn’t quit until the Sergeant yelled another German word. Blood was all over the cell. Puncture wounds from the bites dotted Steve’s arm, blood gushing from them.

            “Why did you do that? He was already subdued.” Erhardt said, pushing the Sergeant. Bogie snarled.

            “You don’t get it, do you Erhardt. That trash attacked an officer. When he attacks one of us he attacks all of us. That shit doesn’t fly here and now he knows it. When will you realize that you have to make a decision? You are either one of us or one of them?” He shook his head and pointed at Steve, who lost conscious. “He wanted you a dead man. Erhardt started to walk away.

            “Besides, it looks like you did him up good before I showed up. I told you, you’re one of us. Join the squad…don’t kid yourself.”

            Erhardt stopped and turned slowly to face the Sergeant.

            “Face it Rikke, I’ll never be like you.” Erhardt ripped off his badge and tossed it on the floor before shoving his way through the army of nurses that finally started to rush in.

Sorry for anyone who happened by!

I’m blaming Christmas and New years break for my lack of activity on here. Even though I have no following I feel I need to show more dedication or I’ll never gain a following. I’m updating the poll. The first poll will remain without a time stamp until I reach ten votes total. After I get a following this will change to a weekly time stamp. For now I’ll post a little story that’s more non-fiction than fiction.

Western Excerpt

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An Excerpt from Bullet For A Friend

by Thomas Maxwell

Jase Mcmasters is a man of the past stuck in the present. With each passing second the world in all its mystery conjures new life and new deaths. With each passing second, man in all his mystery, conjures new unique ideas and patents that aid life and death.  The civil war ended thirty-five years ago yet the bittersweet taste still leaves a sensation on the back of his tongue. The guilt of act and witness binds him back there, restricting him, and some nights when the heat is just right it coils around his throat pinching his lungs from air.

The people back in Black Creek knew better than to cross him, but that was when this all started. That was when the stench of whiskey, the clicking of coin, and the echoes in the saloon muffled the echoes in his head. That was back when things were easy and the crooked nosed Frenchman weren’t holding him at gun point in the back room of a warehouse in La Tesoro Texas.

The floor boards creaked each time the Frenchman shifted weight from one hip to the other. The annoying way the creaking drug on far too long was nearly as annoying as his accent. Rope bound Jase’s hands to the back of the chair and his feet were neatly knotted together. A lantern hung from the ceiling, casting its light on the chair Jase was tied to and the Frenchman.

“Where the hell is ma hat Froggy?” Jase asked with his stare directed to the floor.

The Frenchman clenched his fist and socked Jase a good one to the jaw. Jase let out a hardy laugh.

“You French sure are a bunch of pussies. Always have been…” This time Jase looked the Frenchman directly in the eyes. “What am I doin in here? Who put ya up ta this?”

The Frenchman lifted his pistol to Jase’s head and pulled back the hammer with his thumb; the muzzle of the barrel rested softly on his Jase’s forehead.

*****

What I’m currently working on

Okay, so I’m the kind of person that needs to have multiple projects at one time to keep boredom at bay. I tend to wander in my mind, I have many interests in pretty much every genre, and I’m buried with ideas. I like to write down the plots to ideas or character outlines on sticky notes and notepads, but there are a few things that are prime rib that I keep bouncing to more often than the rest. I’ve been fleshing out some fiction;a western novel, a zombpocalypse novel, a short story about a corrections officer, and a Pincher Martin style of after life novel. I’ve also been doing research on Scythians. I plan to write some non-fiction about them.

I’m going to post some stuff I’ve written later on today. I tend to write a lot of little things too that I’ll just be posting. I’m thinking of implementing the short story poll contest sooner than later as I’ll have some free time for a couple of weeks.

Okay I’m done rambling.

The end

Trying to Make This Happen

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Okay, so lets see. I want to start posting regularly and I want to get some followers to chat with about my writing and other things in the literary world. I plan to eventually get to a point where I can poll followers ideas on one word topics to write a short story about and then the highest poll gets the story the following week to read and tear up. Until then…I need followers. I’ll start this blog out with posting previously written things and personal thoughts until people care enough to start this. SO, I will begin with posting a short clip of the zombpocalypse story I’m working on. This clip was written for and submitted to my university literary magazine and accepted back in october. Let me know if it sucks, it’s a fun read, or anything else on your mind. I hope you’re at least entertained and I will post more like this as I go. Thanks!

STAY ALIVE

by Thomas Maxwell

Watch him instinctively draw his firearm, urged by the moans of the dead lurching just out of sight. The instinct had been drilled into him by his father and sixteen years of service to the United States Army. If only they had taught him how to make ammo from nothing. “Oh crap,” said Scott. His colt 1911, gifted to him by his war-hero father, had been out of ammo for three days. Scott surveyed the dilapidated room for weaponry. The ruins offered a five foot length of rebar and an overturned stool by the only window. Scott holstered the heirloom and pulled the rebar that sprung from a gash in the wall. Stooping low across from the only window in the room, Scott studied the doorway to his right. The room was dimly illuminated by shafts of light passing through the window and breaks in the walls.

Scott gripped the rebar with sweaty palms. His heart beat rapidly. He could hear the ghoul shambling down the hallway, pounding the wall as it marched closer. He imagined what it looked like; worms protruding from its eyes, teeth naked and menacing on its fleshless face, its tongue slapping the inside of its mouth. He silently prayed to God that it would shamble past and leave him be. The pounding on the wall ceased and the shuffling of its feet became ever-present.Its fingers coiled around the doorway. The flesh on them was golden in color and in some places bone was free of restriction. Scott began to shake the rebar, taming the adrenaline coursing through his body. Erecting himself in preparation for what was to come, Scott reminded himself it sounded like only one and he had this under control. The ghoul awkwardly shifted its body sideways through the doorway and before it could turn to face Scott, Scott charged and bashed it over the head with the rebar. The rebar broke, leaving Scott with a few feet of it left. He tried to regain the upper hand by jamming through the ghoul’s head with what was left of the rebar, but the ghoul swiped the air with respectable strength, sending Scott to the floor.”Son-of-a-bitch,” said Scott as he crawled on his back toward the wall, the rebar still in his grip. He noticed the thing must have been a farmer before. It was a lumbering beast, ugly and disfigured. It still had on work boots and a flannel jacket typical of Pennsylvania rough necks. It made its way toward Scott. Scott leapt to his feet and braced himself against the wall; he held the rebar with both hands, extending it outward in a defensive stance. The ghoul came closer, its grotesque abomination of the human form more noticeable with each step. Scott had no route of escape that he could see, so he held the ghoul back with the rebar as he thought of a plan.The ghoul’s large hands groped and tugged at Scott’s black Kevlar vest. It occasionally gripped him firm enough to bash him against the crumbling wall. Scott noticed the ghoul’s face. Its eyes were glazed with the emptiness of death, each eye looking in opposite directions, neither of them at Scott. It bit at the air wildly, its teeth gnashing. Dry cracked lips revealed thin and amber receding gums. The nose had been cleaved off leaving two holes in the face above the mustache. Its left ear was missing and there were human bite impressions all over.Fear took form in Scott’s throat. It worked its way up from his gut, leaving an empty shiver in its wake. He wanted to scream, but he knew if he did, the sound could bring more of them. The drywall supporting his back began to weaken and buckle. He could think of no escape. The image of teeth tearing his flesh and gnawing his bones took hold of his thoughts.The familiar boom of a .50 caliber rifle rang loud in the distance. Seconds later, the ghoul’s head splattered, sending blood, bone, and brain in all directions. The wall finally gave way to the pressure. Crashing through the wall, Scott fell outside on his back. The headless and decomposing corpse followed directly after, pinning Scott between its rot and the ground below. A surge of static coursed through his ligaments and knuckles, compelling him to frantically swat the thing off of him. He wiped the blood from his face and cleaned his hands on the dead farmer’s jacket. “Big son-of-a-bitch,” he said as he patted the farmer’s pockets. He noticed something solid.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, fella.” Scott discovered a set of keys in the pants pocket. A blue rabbit foot dangled from the chain. “Wasn’t much luck for you, huh?” He stuffed the keys in his vest and continued to find a box of matches and a pocket knife. “These should come in handy,” Scott said.

Gazing up from the corpse and to the northern hillside, Scott scanned for the shooter. The oppressive summer sun was on its way down. The calm and eerie aura enveloped the small country farm. The trees in the distance rustled in the light breeze. “Now, I wonder who shot your head clean off. I’d like to thank him for saving my ass.” Scott cleaned off his military issued cap with his knee and looked carefully around the house for the garage. He already searched the house and found nothing but the farmer ghoul.

He found it at the back of the house. A perfect condition, 1973, candy-apple-red, Cadillac Eldorado perched right outside with an ivory top and a chrome grill. It was rare to find a whole vehicle these days, let alone one like this. He hadn’t seen a decent car in years.

He entered the garage first. There was no need to check the engine until he finished rummaging around. It was too dark to see inside the garage. Luckily, there was enough fuel in the lantern hanging outside to keep a flame. The matches did come in handy after all. Inside the garage were a typical workbench, dirt floors, and racks of tools. Scott raised the lantern up and noticed a banister framing a second floor. The light of the lantern reflected off the glass doors of a gun cabinet above.

“My God,” Scott whispered as he retrieved the rabbit’s foot and keys and made his way directly to the gun cabinet. He could see there were guns inside and the excitement of it forced a smile. He placed the lantern on the railing behind him and used the smallest key on the keychain to unlock the doors. Inside remained a Remington 870 twelve gauge shotgun, a Winchester 30/30 lever action rifle, and a bucket full of random ammunition. Some of the ammo looked to be self-loaded, but these days any ammo was good ammo. Finding enough .45 caliber bullets to fill his three magazines, he loaded them and put the few extras in his pants pocket. He brought everything down to the Cadillac where he loaded the rifle and shotgun.

“Let’s see about that shooter with the .50 cal,” he said. The engine failed to start and he noticed the gas gauge read empty. After inspecting the vehicle, he discovered a single bullet had found its way into the car, putting a hole through to the gas tank. “And here I thought you were lucky,” Scott said to the rabbit’s foot. He ripped it from the chain and tossed it away. Scott found some duct tape to seal the hole but failed to produce any gas to fill the tank back up. “I guess I’m hiking it,” Scott said. He left the ammunition bucket and the shotgun in the car and headed north. Scott wanted to thank whoever saved him–he even hoped to find some gas–but more than that, he wanted some human contact. He was used to being a loner-before the event he preferred it that way but years of isolation warrants a conversation or two.

****

Nobody had a name for it. It wasn’t a plague. There were no CDC tents being set up along every coastal city. The dead could bite you. They could bite your damn arm off and it wouldn’t matter. It’s when they killed people that things went bad. That’s when people came back, different. The dead rose in all stages of decomposition. That first week, people believed they had hold of the situation. Maryland boasted, “We’re in the clear; no Zombies here,” like a tourism advertisement. But people got scared and more people started dying. Violent crime was on the rise and natural death was consistent as always. The number of risen became unbearable. It was the same on every continent. After two weeks, there were no more communications available for the people and any semblance of government went with it.

Scott was home on leave the day it started, to say goodbye to his father. Cancer had been sucking his father’s life for years and the oncologist said this would be the end. At the hospital, Scott watched his role model die. For the first time since he could remember, his father looked peaceful. His father was a hard man, a Nazi-killer, and a lifelong state trooper. After his father died, he woke up, and tore out the throat of Scott’s mother. Her blood quickly painted the hospital bed and floor a rich shade of red. Scott was in a state of shock. He pulled his mother from his father’s maddened hold, brandished the colt 1911 his father used in the war, and shot him in the head. Scott turned to help his mother, but she had already bled out. The idea that this could all be some crazy zombie nightmare didn’t occur to him until his mother stood up and attacked him. He shot her in the head, too.

Security guards ran into the room, yelling at him to drop the weapon. Nurses were outside screaming, “He’s got a gun” “and, “Oh my God!” People were frantically running down the halls to escape the mad man with a gun. They didn’t know. They didn’t know; by night’s end, most of them would be dead. That first day, hospitals were the worst place to be.

Scott dropped his colt and went to his knees. He wasn’t sure if he went mad or if he really murdered his parents. After all, he was diagnosed with PTSD after his second tour of combat duty. Before the guard could cuff Scott, an armless doctor ran into the room and closed the door. He had tubing as a tourniquet to stop the stump of his arm from bleeding; blood soaked his clothes. “He died! I screwed up his surgery and he died! His chest was lying wide open! My God, tell me how!?” The doctor sunk into the corner of the room, hitting his head of the wall and rocking back and forth to comfort his confusion.

A man, with his chest surgically folded open, stood outside the door. The same empty gaze of Scott’s parents was on his face. In his grip was the surgeon’s gnawed arm and he repeatedly slapped it against the door. The guard was not panicked. He told Scott to pick up the colt and reached for the doorknob, saying, “On the count of three.” Scott confirmed with a nod. “One…two…three…”

****

Everything was still and calm. The trees surrounding the farm would occasionally sweep in the wind. At the peak of the hill, he could see a sprawling valley below that gave home to an old red barn that fell into disrepair. Only one door could be seen and thin unpainted boards were shoddily nailed up where there were faults in the exterior. Scott made his way to the barn. A strange sensation tickled his spine and pinched his sides. It was only a short time ago one of the risen nearly tore him to pieces. The thought of being in close quarters with another one put Scott on edge. He needed to call out, to either the man who saved him, a barn full of walking dead, or nothing at all, but he wasn’t going inside.

“Hello,” he said. No response. He peered through the doorway; the single hinged door creaked suddenly. “Shit,” he yelled as he jumped and readied the lever action rifle. Nothing moved. He waited, frozen in place. The door creaked once more, pushed by the wind. He lowered the rifle, leaned against the barn, and looked out to the setting sun. He thought to himself he should head back to the car and either rest in it or on the roof of the garage. Soon it wouldn’t be safe to be outside and the shooter was nowhere to be found. This was as far as he would look.

“Drop the gun,” a muffled voice commanded suddenly, startling Scott.

“Who are you?” Scott asked.

“Drop the gun. I’ll shoot right through the damn wall,” the disembodied voice demanded once more.

“Now listen here,” said Scott. “I will not disarm myself out here in these woods. You’ll either have to shoot me or lighten up. I mean you no harm. I came to thank you for saving my ass down there in the farm hou…” A gunshot blasted; It shot through the wall to the right of his head, sending splintering wood into his face.

“Whoa! What the hell are you doing?” Scott yelled as he dropped to the ground and rolled to a nearby tree.

“I don’t like your tone. I asked you to drop your guns. You can have them back when I’m done talking to you. I don’t trust strangers and I ain’t having you mess with me mister. So leave now or drop your weapons,” the voice said.

After a pause to think, Scott said, “Alright, alright. I’m leaving the guns at the tree and then I’m coming out from behind it.” Scott leaned his rifle and pistol against the tree, put his arms out, and stepped out from behind its protection. A figure emerged from the shadow of the doorway. It was ghostly pale and thin where flesh shown. Long and black greasy hair flowed from behind a gas mask. The figure was wearing military issue BDU pants tucked into boots, the BDU jacket tied around the waist. The .50 caliber Barrett rifle was slung over its shoulder, and a Glock 23 steadied in Scott’s direction.

The figure stepped aside and motioned with the gun for Scott to enter the barn. He willingly complied. Something about this person made him trust they wouldn’t simply kill him without reason, especially after whoever it was rescued him.

“Take a seat,” the figure said. It motioned to a singular chair in the middle of the barn. Inside there were stacks of hay all around and a ladder that reached up to a loft that held a sleeping bag covered in hay and a duffle bag. He could hear the slide pulling back on the Glock, and he heard the loud smack it made when it was released. The figure stepped out in front of him, holstered the Glock, and pulled back the gas mask.

“You’re a woman,” said Scott.

He thought she looked beautiful in some savage Amazonian way.

“Is that a question?” the woman said. She hung the gasmask on a nail that stuck out from a support beam. “What’s your name?”

Scott stared for a moment and stammered the words, “Uh, Scott. Scott Baabriarn.

“Well, Scott, I’m Liza. Welcome to my casa. What are you doing here?” she asked.

“You saved me. I wanted to thank you and maybe grab some gas if you knew where I could find any,” said Scott. He looked around and found a gas can. “Is that full?”

Liza looked at the can. “It just so happens it is. What is it to you?”

“There is a Cadi down at the farm. If we go now, we can get there before dark and head out in the morning,” said Scott.

“Whoa, slow down, mister. I’m safe here. This place is safe. I ain’t going nowhere,” Liza said with confidence as she crossed her arms.

“Safe,” said Scott. “Safe is a word without meaning. It used to be a place you kept your shit locked up, a feeling of security. It’s a fleeting memory, lady. At most it’s an idea you can see in your head. Safe is a place where they can’t get you, and I haven’t found it yet.”

Liza shook her head and rolled her eyes. “That zombie I wasted for you was the first I’ve seen in a month. I’ve got food growing all around me. I’ve got a place up here to stay, a roof over my head. You can take the gas mister, but I ain’t going nowhere. As for making it by dusk, take a look outside.”

Scott looked outside and realized it was too dark to travel back to the farm house. “Mind if I bunk up here for the night?” Scott asked.

“Sure,” she said. “Get your guns. I’ll make you a bed and start a fire.”

****

They sat around a fire cooking in a barrel in the center of the barn. Liza prepared some corn in a metal pot of boiling water.

“So you never fired a shot since you’ve been up here?” Scott asked.

“No, never.” Liza picked some corn from her teeth. “I saw that one down there from time to time. It would pick up a shovel and smack the dirt a bit and then go back inside. I’ve seen him maybe four times since I’ve been here. I never had any reason to shoot him until you showed up.”

“Well, I thank you for that,” said Scott. “I was out of ammo and cornered. I’d be a dead man if you hadn’t. Were you in the military? I noticed you have lots of military equipment.”

Liza laughed. “Oh God, no. I’m not that stupid. These were my husband’s.”

“Hey now,” said Scott. “I served sixteen years in the Army. I’m not entirely stupid.” He laughed a bit. “So your husband was in the military? Is he dead?”

Liza’s face soured. “No, my husband was a military nut, but he was too weak to ever join up. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was a good man. His daddy was a rough man, a military man. He made Dave feel like he had to be a certain way. It just wasn’t in his nature. He loved these things and they’ve come in handy…for me.”

Scott nodded. “What happened to him, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“The local militia came sweeping through the town killing everyone outside their homes. At the time they didn’t know it wasn’t a disease. They thought everyone who was bit would be sick. They didn’t even know you had to shoot them in the head. They were just dealing death; people were scared and running wild on the streets. The dead started getting up and going into homes, eating everyone. Dave had a little bunker where he kept everything. He took his AR15, locked me inside, and said he would be right back. His eyes told me goodbye. After a few days, I tried getting out. The door was jammed. I managed to open them enough to wiggle through. I found him lying sprawled out on the doors. There had to have been twenty dead around him. He shot himself in the head, the rifle emptied.”

Scott looked Liza in the eyes. “I’m sorry for your loss. I took off to my cabin up by Lake Pymatuning after I watched my dad rip my mother’s throat out in the hospital room he died in. I didn’t know what the heck was happening. I thought I was going crazy.”

“Hey, we’ve all had some heavy shit to deal with. We’re still kicking for a reason, right? Why don’t we get some rest,” Liza said.

Scott shushed her.”You hear that?” Scott tilted his head in listening.

Something scraped against the barn. The sound of something being drug across the dirt startled them both; they looked at each other with alarm. Liza loaded a round into the Berrett and lay prone on the loft, aiming at the doorway. Scott grabbed the Winchester rifle and knelt above the ladder. Whatever was dragging came closer and closer to the doorway. The door jolted, causing a hair-raising thud to echo through the barn. The barn door slowly nudged open. A very decomposed corpse shambled through the door, dragging its broken right leg. Its eyes were bulging and floating in lidless sockets. The bottom jaw had been broken and stuck agape. Its tongue flapped freely, but lacking saliva it looked shriveled like a small potato.

Firing a round from the 30/30 Winchester, Scott shot the ghoul dead between the eyes. The corpse slumped back onto the ground. Before he could snap the lever down and back, another risen shambled through the door. Liza dispatched the second one, the Berrett resounding through the barn, deafening Scott temporarily. He rubbed his ears and ignored the ringing.

Two more entered through the barn. “What is happening?” Liza asked. Panic stained her face. Scott ran over and stuffed her belongings into her duffle bag. “We have to get out of here,” he said. “Your gunshot from saving me must have lured them to us. They must be leaving the cities to look for people like us.”

“Where will I go? What do I do?” Liza asked in a stupor. Scott shoved the duffle bag into her chest. “I’m going to Alaska,” he said. “You coming?”

“Alaska,” she said.” What do you mean, Alaska? ”

Scott grabbed the gas can and looked for another way out. “Because the last two winters they barely came around. As soon as summer hit, they were all over.”

“Why not just go north to Canada? It’s a lot closer than Alaska,” Liza said.

Scott kicked open the hay loft hatch. “There are none back here. We drop down and run straight for the Cadi. We can do this.”

“Why Alaska?” Liza asked louder.

Scott laughed. “Cause, it’s American,” he said, as he jumped out of the hay loft.