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Max_Writer

Blackhawk Down

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

(After playing Steve Walkup’s D20 Modern Walking Dead scenario “Blackhawk Down” on Friday, March 28, at CaesarCon 2014 with Chris Sparks, Xavier Sparks, and Matt Adams.)

From the Journal of Francis “Frank” Strazynski (also called “Sarge”)

It was about a month after the world fell into chaos and the dead had risen up and were walking, their sole purpose to attack and devour all living things. We were survivors hoping to make it to a safe haven. An emergency broadcast stated that Stony Ridge, Ohio, was that safe haven. The military had set up a base in the town and walled the city to protect the population.

We had been on the move since the raid on the drug den in Mexico, about the time everything started. Sam “God” Everready had told me, after we got back to El Paso, that he had family in Michigan he wanted to get to. I had no family so I followed him all the way to Hopesville, Michigan. We had been surviving in the town. The military had kept the walkers at bay and life had some semblance of normality. We guarded the perimeter and put down walkers, as well as went on patrols to keep the surrounding area safe.

Our squad included a couple of members of the Michigan National Guard as well. Actually, most of the military in the place was National Guard. But these two guys ended up on most of the patrols with us. Nate Parker was a nice enough fellow, though a little rash. His nickname was (for whatever reason) “Flamboyant Hat.” I still don’t know the whole story behind that one. He carried a shotgun. The other guy was a medic. I never learned his real name. We called him “Doc.”

We were ready to go on patrol that morning when an officer handed me a letter that read:


To all forward commanders,

Your mission has changed from containment to evacuation. Evacuate all citizens to
predetermined fallback points and await further orders. Good luck and God Bless.

U.S. Army Joint Chiefs of Staff,
Mark Sanders


“I hate that guy,” I muttered.

“So, we’re not killing them anymore?” Sam asked. “We have to actually take the survivors somewhere?”

“We gotta take the civilians and get them to safety,” I said. “I was not trained for this.”

We were ordered to the football field where the helicopter evac was to take place. There were a six Blackhawk helicopters. I found our lieutenant.

“Where we going?” I asked him.

“We’re evacuating to Stony Ridge,” he said.

“Oh yeah, I heard about that place.”

“To our last knowledge, Stony Ridge was still functional.”

We found our designated helicopter. It was the third bird in a row of six. Civilians lined up and boarded the bird, where we helped buckle them in. There was a pair of door guns that were manned by Sam and Parker.

As we lifted off and headed south, we could see a mass of humanity heading towards Hopesville.

“Save your ammo,” I said.

I could understand why we were evacuating. We had defenses, but that presented simply a no-win situation. No hope for Hopesville.

“You know, with a couple of phosphorous grenades, we could just light ‘em all up,” Sam said to me.

“My God,” I muttered.

The flight was uneventful and we made enough flights to put off civilians four times, each time seeing that the mass of walking dead humanity was getting closer and closer to Hopesville.

Stony Ridge looked secure and there were military personnel there. There were a few walkers at the fence but they were quickly dispatched. The people we dropped off ran to a building that appeared to be the only one on the premises. Best guess was that, driving a car it was about a two-hour drive between Hopesville and Stony Ridge. It was maybe 100 miles give or take. That meant it was only a 20 to 30 minute flight by helicopter.

“I really wish we had phosphorus grenades,” Sam mumbled again.

As we approached for our fifth trip, a voice over the com in the helicopter announced that it was the last flight in. If they were not on the bird, they were not getting on the bird. There were still a LOT of civilians left.

“Lock and load,” I said. “We take who we can.”

En route, we opened up the doors of the bird and chucked the seats out so we could fit more people into the Blackhawk. The men on the other birds were doing so as well.

“Aim for the walkers,” I said.

As we landed, the civilians were still calm and only slowly got onto the birds. They obviously didn’t know that this was the last flight. I tried to maintain my calm and get people onto the bird as efficiently as possible. I’d told Parker to be ready on his door gun in case the civilians got out of hand.

People started to push forward and seemed to be panicking.

“Whoa whoa whoa people!” I said. “C’mon! Let’s act like human beings here!”

“Take off now!” I heard Sam over the headset.

We were about full.

“Sarge! Get in! Now!” he said. “Time to get in the bird.”

“We can still fit some folks,” I said back over my own headset.

“Sarge! Get in the bird!”

“Get the wounded on the first chopper!” came over the radio.

I looked to my right and saw them loading wounded onto the first helicopter, which lifted off. I looked towards the crowd and, for the first time, noticed a mass of walkers behind them.

“Shit!” I screamed.

As I leapt onto the Blackhawk, I saw, as one of the helicopters started to lift off, a woman try to hand up her child. People tried to push her out. As I watched, a soldier leapt off the bird and shoved her and her child up into the Blackhawk. He headed for the mass of walkers coming towards them.

We lifted off with a full load of civilians. People hung onto the landing gear and we told them to get off. When they didn’t, we shot them. Other Blackhawks were opening fire on the mass of humanity below us.

“Blue Three, this is Blue Six, get out of there!” came over the radio. “We got fast movers coming in.”

That meant jets were on the way.

From where I sat, I could see the A-10 Warthogs scream in and drop canisters.

“Incoming,” Sam said. “Looks like carpet bombing.”

I tried to brace myself as the napalm and explosives tore across the football field, destroying everything. People on the helicopter started screaming.

“They shouldn’t do that!” someone shrieked.

“Calm down, everybody,” I yelled. “Calm down. Shut up!”

We were about halfway through the flight when I moved to the cockpit and was able to look out the front window. The first helicopter in the group started to move erratically.

“Aw crap!” I said.

I tapped on the pilot’s helmet.

“Hey, Bob!” I said. “Get us some height! Get us some height! Let’s get out of here!”

Then the first helicopter hit the second one.

“Crap!” I screamed. “C’mon Bob! Let’s get out of here! Let’s not play this game!”

“What do you mean ‘crap’ Sarge?” Sam’s voice came over the intercom. “What’s going on?”

“We lost two birds in front of us!” I screamed.

The pilot pulled us up and out of the way of the two fatally wounded birds. He was a hell of a pilot.

The first bird hit the ground and shattered like it was made of glass, flying apart. The second bird tried to put down intact.

“How are the rest of them, Bob?” I asked.

“They’re fine,” he said.

Blackhawk Two could not get back into the air but hit the ground with considerably less force than the first bird had.

“All right, we got to get the civilians … our orders are civilians,” I said over the radio. “We’ve got to take the civilians first. We can come back for these guys if we have to.”

“Aye aye, Sarge,” Sam said.

“Once the civilians are down, we can come back for these guys,” I said again.

We continued on to Stony Ridge and offloaded civilians. The bird was shut down and I asked the pilot what we had for fuel.

“We’ll refuel and get out of here,” he said.

I found an officer, a big guy about six and a half feet tall.

“Hi,” he said to me. “My name is Lt. Anderson. Welcome to Stony Ridge.”

“Sergeant Strazynski, sir,” I said. “Uh look, we got one Blackhawk down; we might have survivors out there.”

“Well, they’re on their own because they’re keeping all the birds here.”

“All righty. Should I fill out a report?”

“If you want.”

I filled out the report where the Blackhawk had gone down.

“I’ll give it to the General,” he said.

“All right.”

“The General is in charge. If you have any questions, you come through me.”

“All right, lieutenant.”

I noted a few landmarks for the man as he introduced himself to the others in the squad.

“Isn’t there anybody we’ve got that can at least drop in to protect those people until we can walk ‘em in?” Doc asked.

“We are securing this base and this base only,” Lt. Anderson replied. “Don’t worry, they’re soldiers. They can take care of themselves. You’re still part of the military. They’ll be all right.”

“Respectfully sir, we should go check for survivors so that they don’t bring more trouble to us or make sure that more trouble’s not heading our way,” Sam said.

“We need to secure this base,” Lt. Anderson replied. “We’ve got civilians coming in from all over. We need to secure this base. I need all decks on hand to secure this base. I need every man with a weapon here.”

“All righty,” I said. “We got our orders, boys.”

He sent us to get something to eat. The place wasn’t a town and didn’t look like a military base. However, when we went underneath, we found barracks, a fully-working hospital, and other areas, all hidden. The place was not what it seemed and was certainly more than a National Guard base. From outside, it looked more like a backwoods airport, with only a couple of buildings and a small tower near the main gate.

“Let’s get some chow,” I said. “Then we’ll look around.”

“Yeah, we need to investigate this,” Sam said. “I don’t like the idea of one entrance, one exit.”

“There’s a gate,” Doc said. “We’ll be fine.”

“God damn it, Doc,” I said. “That’s what you said in Michigan.”

Sam reminded me of that terrible cave in Mexico that had only one exit. It had been a bit disconcerting. He had told the story time and time again. “One way in, one way out. They were chewing on the horses.” I just wanted to forget about that place. I still didn’t know what happened to the other two guys who had been on that last mission.

“I just want to point out, Michigan has only one way out,” Doc said.

Sam wasn’t amused.

We found our bunks and a place for chow. We also found some of the civilians we’d evacuated from Hopesville. A few thanked us, a few others cursed us.

“How could you not go back?” someone asked.

“We can go back right now,” I said. “You want to go with me? C’mon, we’ll go. I’ll walk you right back to Michigan and we’ll save every one of those dead people. We had to do what we had to do there, buddy.”

Sometimes I hated civilians.

A couple hours after we arrived, I was approached by a woman who told me she’d known people on that other helicopter and she wanted someone to go back and get them and make sure they were okay. I tried not to roll my eyes.

“I’ll talk to my lieutenant, ma’am,” I told her. “And see if there’s anything we can do.”

“I’m really worried about it,” the woman said.

It was two days later, before dawn, when Lt. Anderson approached me.

“Get your squad ready,” he said. “You guys want to go after that bird that went down, to check for survivors? Things have calmed down.”

“Sure,” I said. “One of my men does. I’m actually very comfortable right here.”

“Are you?”

“But if that’s the order, sir, then we’ll do it.”

I went down to the barracks and woke up Sam by kicking him.

“Hey, we’re going after your survivors,” I said.

“Survivors or potential trouble, either way,” he said.

“Let’s mount up. Load up. Suit up.”

We were loaded onto a Blackhawk. The orders were to repel down from the bird, which would then take off and circle the area. We were to secure the downed Blackhawk, dispatch the wounded, and then call the bird back in. Sam and Parker manned the guns again and we had the same pilot we’d had before.

We approached the area of the downed bird just before dawn.

“We’ve got warm spots and walkers!” Sam said.

“God damn,” I muttered.

“There’s a mini gun going off down there,” Parker said.

I looked around and Sam pointed out the wreck and the makeshift defenses the survivors had set up. Doc noted that he could see the flash of the mini gun. The area was wooded and there was no sign of a place to repel down unless we dropped down into the mass or behind the numerous walkers. There was also a suicidal place we could possibly drop behind the wreck. Sam and Parker pointed out a place we could probably repel down safely.

There were probably a few dozen walkers but not too many for us to take care of. Doc suggested shredding the walkers with our own mini guns but Sam nixed that as a waste of ammunition. We had learned that head shots were the only way to destroy the things and, even after shredding their bodies, we’d still have to go down and finish them off anyways.

Sam noticed that the gunner on the ground was not aiming at the walkers’ heads but center of mass, meaning they were not dying. He voiced the opinion that there should be people watching the other direction and he feared that only panicky civilians had survived the crash and might shoot at anything they saw approaching, even us.

We ended up repelling down into a small clearing the other side of the wreck from the mass of zombies. All of us did it badly, crashing to the ground at the LZ. That didn’t surprise me about the national guardsmen but I was a little disappointed at Sam and myself.

“We really gotta practice,” I said.

We set up a quick security perimeter. Then we started to make our way towards the downed helicopter. Sam and Parker said, over the radio, that they saw a group of people fleeing through the woods. They pointed them out to Doc and me. I recognized the little girl and the mother that had gotten on that bird with the group. The man who led them out was wearing a Marine Corps uniform. They were being led to the east, away from the wrecked bird. Just then, we all heard the mini gun explode.

“Let’s keep that in mind and check out the downed bird,” I said.

We headed south towards the wrecked Blackhawk, Parker taking point, Sam in the back. I was overwatch, behind Parker, and Doc was between me and Sam.

“Tripwires!” Parker said after we’d only traveled a hundred yards.

They were professionally set, meaning there were still military about, and connected to claymores and grenades. Walkers would never get through the killing zone. I suggested moving through it instead of around it, but Sam did not like that idea. That was fine with me.

Doc looked at the helicopter through his binoculars. He reported there was a swarm of zombies all around the machine. Soldiers were shooting randomly at them. Then he reported that one of the soldiers had picked up something and was just beating off the walkers.

“Parker, fire a round in the air,” I said.

He did so and Doc, still watching the action, reported that a few of the walkers had broken off. When he reported that some of the walkers were heading straight towards us, we headed around the side of the booby trapped area as quietly but as quickly as possible. I was hopeful that the walkers would hit the tripwire zone and blow themselves apart.

Sam was nervous about the events as they were playing out and suspicious as to why the survivors hadn’t signaled our bird. I pointed out that, in all of the confusion, they might not have even heard it. I radioed our circling bird and told them about the group of people heading east, asking for them to get eyes on that group.

“We’ll follow ‘em,” Bob said.

We were almost within rifle range and could see the downed Blackhawk. The soldier atop the bird was beating the walkers with something. Then he fell into the bird. The walkers swarmed up and onto the machine. Thirty seconds later, an explosion rocked the area as the Blackhawk went up in a fireball. The shockwave knocked me from my feet.

The walkers shambled around, stupid and confused. Some walked into the fire, while others started to stumble away from the wreck.

“This is a wash,” I said. “Let’s head east.”

I also radioed our Blackhawk and let them know what had happened.

“We’ll follow east and contact in an hour,” Bob replied. “They’re in a truck, still heading east.”

We also headed east at that point, moving through the wilderness.

“We need to find a vehicle,” Sam said.

“Or just get to an LZ and get picked up by the helicopter,” I said.

Sam pointed out that the delay might mean losing the civilians. He was right so we headed east, looking for a vehicle. I suggested they could also disable the vehicle, but it wasn’t a good idea and I didn’t mean it seriously.

When Parker, who had point, froze again, I stopped. He went down, as did I, and saw what he’d seen. Three walkers were up there, chewing on something. There were only three of them and there were four of us. I signaled Parker to come back and we got together. Doc suggested there was no reason for us to do it from a distance, as we could move right up to them. I foolishly agreed.

We headed up to the feeding walkers. I moved to the right, Parker going ahead of me to circle around the horrible things, while the other two moved around to the left. Unfortunately, they heard me coming and turned towards me.

Doc opened fire with his silenced rifle but missed. Parker fired his sidearm, and his bullet struck the walker. It turned in his direction. The other two moved towards me though one kept eating the dead thing. Then Sam opened up with his own silenced sidearm. I fell back from the two that were coming at me and they kept coming.

Doc fired at one of the ones still in pursuit of me. The bullet struck the back of the thing’s head and it stumbled and staggered, but didn’t fall. Across the clearing, I saw Parker put his Beretta into the walker’s mouth and pull the trigger. The walker turned his head though, and the bullet merely grazed the thing. It grabbed hold of the man and the two struggled together.

The one Doc had shot stumbled towards him very slowly. Then Sam headed over to Parker and blasted the walker that was struggling with him in the head. Unfortunately, the bullet only took off the back of the things skull and it apparently still had enough brains to keep trying to kill Parker.

“Dammit! Hold him still!” I heard Sam say.

One of the damned things was still trying to get to me. I kept falling back, wanting to be able to shoot the thing without it biting me. I saw Doc draw his sidearm and finish off the stumbling creature that was trying to reach him with a clean headshot.

Parker continued to struggle with the other walker and finally flung it off. It stumbled backwards and right into Sam, who backed away from the horrible dead man whose skull seemed to have been shattered in two places. Then the awful thing turned towards him. It tried to bite Sam but the man held him off. Then the one eating at whatever was on the ground stood up and moved towards him as well.

I finally had range on the damned walker that was coming at me. I took aim and shot the thing in the head. It dropped without a sound. Doc got out his silenced carbine again and shot the one that had been feasting. It dropped as well. Parker fired at the one that was heading for Sam but the weekend warrior missed and the horror stumbled as it fell against the man. Luckily, the thing went for his heart and only got a mouthful of his tactical vest instead. Sam finished it off with his sidearm.

They had been eating a deer. The animal had been injured and I guessed that it was probably a victim of a tripwire trap. I checked all of the walkers but they had been killed with headshots so a double tap was unnecessary.

We reloaded our weapons, I checked in with the bird, and we continued east.

“They went to a farm about four miles east,” Bob replied. “We are called to return to base. We will pick you up when able.”

“Affirmative,” I said. “Safe journey.”

Stupid Lt. Anderson, I thought.

According to the map, there was a town to the south called Stromsville. It was probably an hour or so from us by foot.

We continued east, looking for the farm and found the place after about an hour. There was no sign of a truck, though a red VW microbus and a Honda Accord were parked out front. There were no obvious signs of life though a windmill was working on the property and a barn was 20 yards behind the house. A pile of burnt bodies was off to one side, smoldering.

A sign near the driveway read “Stony Ridge Church of our Savior.”

“Better unpack your cannon, there, God,” I said to Sam.

“I’m on it,” he replied.

“I’m going to head on up to the house,” I said. “Keep an eye on me.”

Doc came with me and we carefully approached the house. We called out once we got close.

“There was a fight here,” Sam radioed us. “Walker bodies everywhere.”

Doc and I looked around more carefully.

“Hello in the house,” I called quietly.

One of the curtains in the ground floor twitched and a good-looking woman looked out.

“Hello!” I called again.

“Hello!” a woman’s voice came from inside the house. “Who are you?”

“We are not walkers,” I said. “We are passing through. We need information.”

“Uh … okay, what do you need?” she called.

“Not to be yelling where walkers will hear us.”

“Okay. C’mon in.”

I went onto the porch and she opened the door. There was a skittish guy in the archway that led out of the room. He had a shotgun. Another man stood near where steps went up to the second floor.

“I’m Doc,” Doc said. “Looks like you had a battle here recently. If there’s injured people who need help, I can help you out.”

“No, we’re okay,” the girl said to him. “My name is Maize and I’m a student and … you’re kind of cute! Are you here to rescue me?”

She smiled.

“Are you here to rescue me?” she asked again.

The house stank of marijuana. I realized that the guy with the shotgun had a reefer cigarette in his mouth.

“It doesn’t look like you need to be rescued,” Doc told the girl. “It looks like you’re doing okay here.”

“You can rescue me anytime,” the girl said to him.

I rolled my eyes. She was probably as high as the shaggy-looking guy with the shotgun.

“Well, we had … we had these like people here,” she suddenly blurted out. “We had like these people here and they didn’t like living here and … like … so they left. And … and … we decided to stay. They went to Stony Ridge. They were, like, in a truck. Some dude, Marine guy, and some cop guy. They decided to leave.”

“Ahhh,” Doc said.

“But we stayed here.”

“Did they take the vehicle from here?”

“Yeah. They took a truck that was parked out back. Hey, that’s Shaggy’s VW bus out there.”

“Nice.”

“Yeah, that’s mine!” the guy with the shotgun said. “That’s my VW bus!”

“How many of you are still here?” Doc asked.

“That’s vintage!” Shaggy said. “That’s a vintage microbus.”

“There’s three of us,” Maize said. “There’s me. And there’s Shaggy.”

“Hey!”

“And there’s Frank.”

The other man had a large hunting rifle. He just nodded at us.

“Is there another vehicle nearby that we might be able to use?” Doc asked.

“There’s a Honda Accord out there, but it needs a little work,” she replied.

“We need the microbus though, man,” Shaggy said. “We need the microbus.”

“So, you’re welcome to stay here with us,” Maize said, giving Doc the eyes.

I took out the map of the area.

“If you need a place to sleep, I’ve got a place where YOU can sleep,” the girl said to him.

I rolled my eyes again.

“Do we have time?” Doc asked me.

“Doc, if you’re going to do that, turn off your mike,” Sam said over the radio.

“I mean, it’s been a month since I’ve had a shower but whatever,” Doc continued.

“Oh, you want a shower?” Maize said. “We have running water.”

“Maybe on the way back, miss,” I said, still looking at the map.

“Who’s the buzzkill?” she whispered loudly to Doc.

I guessed it was only about a 30 minute drive to Stony Ridge, probably about 30 miles.

“Maybe you guys should think about moving to Stony Ridge,” Doc said to her.

“There’d be cops there,” Maize said.

Shaggy looked nervous about that.

“They’re looking for people who know how to set up gardens, though,” Doc went on.

Shaggy took a long drag on the marijuana cigarette. Maize gestured at him to put it away.

“These guys are cool, right?” he said. “You guys are cool, right? You’re cool, right? You’re not a cop, right? If you’re a cop, you have to tell me.”

“I think they’re cops,” Maize whispered loudly to him.

“No, they’re in the military,” Shaggy said with a grin. He pointed at Doc. “That guy was in Vietnam. That’s the kind of clothes he’s wearing. Right? Vietnam clothes.”

“Uh,” Doc said.

“And that guy,” he said, pointing at me, “he’s CIA Special Ops, Black Unit, Delta Team Squad.”

Maize shushed him.

“I can tell,” he went on. “I have nothing but respect for you man. You guys want a hit?”

“That’s our last,” Maize quickly said. “That’s all we got left.”

“Yeah,” Shaggy said. “That’s … this is the …” He looked at Maize, confused and she raised her eyebrows. “Oh yeah! Yeah. This is all we got left! But you can have it if you want.”

“Yeah, what the hell,” Doc said, taking a hit.

“Sarge, can Parker come in?” Sam radioed. “He’s drooling out here.”

“What?” I said. “What?”

“I’m just trying to get along with the locals, man,” Doc said, blowing smoke out of his mouth.

“Flamboyant?” I said. “He wants to come in?”

“He wants to come in.”

“No. Tell him to watch your back.”

“We got stuff that works here,” Maize said. “We got … c’mere! C’mere! C’mere!”

She led us into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Cool air and light came from within.

“You want a beer?” she asked. “Cool beer. Cool beer. Cool beer.”

“Wow,” Doc said.

“Cold beer?” I said. Then to the radio: “They got cold beer.”

“Oh damn,” Sam said. “Really?”

“I might have to have just one,” I muttered.

“Cold?” Sam said.

“Can we borrow your car, ma’am?” I asked Maize.

“Yeah,” Doc said.

“The Honda, yeah you can borrow it,” she said.

“We’ll bring it back,” I said.

“But it … it it it doesn’t work right?”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“There’s a hose …”

“We have somebody who can take a look at it for you. We’ll try to fix it. And if you’re offering a beer, I’ll take a cold beer, ma’am.”

“We got plenty.”

We each had a cold beer and it was like heaven. Parker soon joined us and I took a beer out to Sam. Parker and I went out to look at the Honda while Doc spent some private time with that Maize chick.

After we got the car fixed and Doc got laid, the three told us that the farm had been a church. There was a church in the barn and the preacher thought that God was punishing the world and the sinners were turning into walkers. He would kill the sinners and when people came to the farm, he would try to convert them. A soldier from the Blackhawk had gone to the place for help and when they found out he was Jewish, they tortured him, trying to get him to convert to Christianity. When Maize, Shaggy, Frank, and their friends had found the soldiers, he had been hanging from a cross in the rafters.

“We saved him,” Shaggy said. “He was a nice guy.”

Maize kind of lost it after that. One of their buddies got bit and had to be put down before he could turn. The marine had gone to look for the downed Blackhawk with the soldier. That Jewish soldier must have been the one we saw blow up the bird and the walkers that were trying to get to him. Then the marine had taken the people he’d rescued and headed for Stony Ridge. I asked how many got back from the Blackhawk and she guessed there were five or six civilians.

“I don’t think any of the military guys made it,” she said. “There were no cute ones in there.”

“Was there a woman with a baby?” Doc asked.

“Yeah,” she said.

Parker fixed the car and the keys were in it. I cranked it up and found that there was about ¾ of a tank of gas. I asked the people if they wanted to come with us but they were happy where they were. Doc was our best driver. Sam rode in the front with him while Parker and I took the back seats. Damned vehicle was a two-door.

“Here’s my digits,” Maize said, handing Doc a slip of paper.

“Outstanding,” he said.

“You got a cell phone that works?” I asked.

“Yeah?” she replied nastily. “Don’t you?”

She was stoned out of her mind.

We headed south. It soon got dark and we decided to push through the night to try to either find the marine and the civilians or get back to Stony Ridge. All of us had our night vision goggles on. It was not long after dark when I saw light in the distance. I pointed it out to the others and Doc suggested using binoculars. It looked like headlights pointing our way, but they weren’t getting closer fast enough to indicate that the vehicles were actually moving towards us.

As we approached, I asked what the opinion was for approach. Sam said to let him out ahead of time. Doc told me he was going to pull right up unless we wanted different. As we approached, Sam told Doc to slow down and he did. He dropped out of the passenger side door and Parker crawled over the seat. I told Doc to stop the car once we were about 100 feet away.

The lights appeared to be from three pickup trucks that were blocking the road. As Doc pulled the car to a stop less than 60 feet away, large lights atop the cab of the middle truck, facing us, came on. I ducked down in the back seat.

A man stood in the back of the truck facing our car and put a loudspeaker to his mouth.

“Get out of the car!” he said.

“Open the doors,” I hissed. “Get out.”

Doc said I could go out through the trunk. I pulled down the back seat and crawled into the trunk where I was able to unlatch it and hold it mostly down while I flopped out onto the ground behind the car. Meanwhile, Doc and Parker got out, Doc holding up his hands. I hoped Sam was playing God and watching through the scope.

“Where you guys headed?” the man in the back of the truck called.

“We’re headed south,” Doc said.

“Where you headed south to?”

“Next town that’s civilized that we can …”

“That’s my town!”

“Yeah?”

“Are you guys from that Stony Ridge placed?

“Stone … Stony … what? Stony … what? That sounds … no.”

“That military base.”

“That sounds like an Oak Ridge Boys song. No.”

“Well, y’all wearing them military type outfits.”

“We’re guardsmen! National guardsmen! We were out on patrol the weekend that this all happened. Funny story.”

“Oh, so you just got some bad luck, huh? So, whatcha doing in Ohio if you’re from Michigan?”

“We’re headed south.”

“For where?”

“Uh … to … I don’t know. We’re kind of like snowbirds, so we’re going to Florida.”

Oh my God, I thought.

“Panama City, I heard, is really nice,” Doc went on. “Supposed to be a big resort town or something.”

“Ask ‘em if they’ve seen a truck come this way!” I hissed at the two.

“You could just use your radio,” Sam said over the line.

“What are you guys doing?” Doc asked.

“Ask ‘em if they’ve seen a truck come this way,” I said over the radio.

“This is my town,” the man with the loudspeaker said. “I’m here to protect my town.”

“Yeah?” Doc said.

“And everybody that comes through my town … must pay a toll.”

“Oh.”

Oh my God, I thought.

“Sam, you got a bead on that guy?” I asked over the radio.

“I got a bead on him,” he replied.

“Okay,” I said.

“You know, I … uh … I avoided the turnpike, just for this same problem,” Doc called.

“Why would you take the turnpike?” the man called. “It runs east and west. You said you were headed south. You would avoid the turnpike.”

“Uh … you know, there was a truck with a guy in it and a young lady and maybe a few other people,” Doc called. “Young lady with a baby. Did they happen to come through here?”

“Nope.”

“Huh.”

“You’re the only one that’s come through here all day.”

“You guys been here all day?”

“Yep. Been here all day.”

“Huh.”

When he spoke next, it was under his breath. Only those of us on the radio (and Doc never turned his microphone off) could hear.

“Well, should we kill him anyway?” he said.

“Don’t tempt,” Sam said.

I rolled my eyes.

“I got to worry about my people in town,” the man on the loudspeaker said. “So, to take my road, you must pay a toll. So, why don’t you just put all your stuff down and walk, and you’ll live. We can make this easy: just put everything down, walk away from the car.”

The men looked like they only had hunting rifles.

“We’re actually going to turn around and probably go the other way, because─” Doc started to say.

“Well, you’re already on my road so you have to pay the toll,” the man called.

“Take the shot,” I said.

There was a blast from behind us somewhere and the man screamed as the bullet struck him in the shoulder.

“We need at least one alive,” I said over the radio.

“Fine,” Sam said. He sounded disappointed.

“I’m so disappointed with that shot,” I said.

I stood up, using the car as a shield as best I could, and shot the leader who Everready had already hit. My own bullet took the man in the upper chest.

The rednecks opened fire, their bullets riddling the car. The leader fired a large gun that exploded in his hands and he dropped to the back of the truck. Doc was hit by one of the rednecks’ bullets and let out a cry. There was another blast from behind us and the man in the truck to the furthest right lost his head.

“Got my range now,” Sam said over the radio.

Doc reached into the car and grabbed his rifle. Parker fired but hadn’t braced the pistol and the recoil sent it slamming into his face. He tripped and fell to the ground where he lay, stunned.

“Guys, I think I broke my nose!” he screamed.

“****ing National Guard,” I muttered.

I raised my voice.

“Stand down and you won’t be killed!” I yelled.

Then I shot the second guy in the truck to the right. He didn’t go down. The enemy got off their trucks, holding something in their hands. I guessed, and I’m sure we all did, that they were holding Molotov cocktails. They moved towards the Accord, drawing their pistols.

“Uh, God, yeah, we could use some help here,” I said over the radio.

They fired their handguns at us and one of them tripped on something in the road and fell prone.

“I don’t think they’re surrendering,” I said over the radio.

Another blast came from somewhere behind us and struck the man I’d already shot. Doc shot one of the bottles that one of the men was carrying and it exploded and splashed burning liquid all over the guy, as well as the man who had stumbled and fallen to the road.

“National Guard, *****es!” Doc screamed.

“Turn off the radio,” I said.

“****ing civilians!” Sam said.

I fired at the guy who’d taken two bullets on my right but missed.

Just then the man who’d been talking into the loudspeaker appeared in the back of the truck again.

“Get ‘em!” he shrieked.

One of the men turned and fled. Two others rushed towards the car and lit and flung their Molotov cocktails. One of them struck the car and Doc and I got splattered with burning gasoline or whatever it was.

“Guys, it’s cool,” I heard Parker say over the radio. “It’s cool. My nose isn’t broken.”

A second one threw his gasoline bottle and it burst on top of the car. The flaming gasoline burned Doc pretty well but I only got some splatter. The man who’d dropped his Molotov before fell to the ground, burned to death, and the flames were engulfing the stunned redneck as well. They were both toast.

“Hey guys!” Parker said over the radio. “My nose is fine!”

Doc, meanwhile, was administering first aid to himself as he crawled over and grabbed Parker, still stunned on the ground and babbling about his nose, and dragged him off the road and into the field next to the ditch to our right.

The leader pulled another rifle out of the cab of his truck and fired at Sam.

“Ouch,” I heard the sniper say over the radio.

I found out later that two of the fingers of his left hand had been blown off.

“But that was my favorite finger!” he cried.

He returned fire but missed. One of the rednecks ran to the car and looked into the driver’s side, on the opposite side from Parker and me. Doc was still behind the car somewhere. He fired at the man leaning into the car but missed. The man leapt backward and gaped at the National Guardsman.

The two men who had been burned stumbled to their feet and headed for the car. I went down to one knee and then fired at a man near me but missed, so I tried to make it sound like a warning shot.

“Back off!” I said. “U.S. Army!”

“Hey, look out!” Doc yelled at the guy in the car.

The leader fired back into the darkness again, trying to shoot Sam. The guy I’d warned off shot at me with his sidearm but the recoil sent it up and into his face. He fell to the ground, stunned. There was a lot of blood and I guessed the man HAD a broken nose.

There’s our prisoner, I thought.

“The burners are turned,” Doc said.

That’s when I realized the two guys across from the car were not walking, they were shambling. They’d turned to walkers.

God, that was quick, I thought. Crap!

Doc took another shot at the leader. Parker shook his head and stumbled to his feet. I used the man for cover and fired at the leader in the truck but the bullet ricocheted off the cab. Then the man dropped down into the back of the truck again.

The man in the car started screaming as his two now-dead friends grabbed him and started to eat him.

“Somebody mercy kill that guy,” I said.

I pointed at the man who had knocked himself out with his own gun.

“Try to patch him up and take him prisoner,” I said.

I kicked the gun away from the unconscious man. Then I moved up the road and lay down, taking my time to kill the two walkers who had eaten their friend. I killed them both with a headshot to each. I went to the dead redneck and used my knife to finish him off. Then I looked around to make sure that we had no more enemies or walkers.

The engine of the middle truck roared to life. It started to back up and there was another blast from Sam’s sniper rifle. I couldn’t see the large hole that appeared in the engine but knew it had been there when the vehicle died with a cough. The man inside leapt out and started to run down the road. He made it about 30 feet before his head burst like an overripe melon from another of Sam’s big bullets.

We policed the area and found that two of the trucks were in great shape. One of them was a Ford F250 crew cab that would suit us better than the Honda. The other was a Chevy 1500, though didn’t have a crew cab. Both had four-wheel drive. Each with a case of Molotov cocktails in it. We found that they looked like real Molotov as well, not just bottles filled with gasoline or kerosene. I wondered if we should have recruited the leader instead of killing him. There were also several five-gallon gas cans that were all full.

We moved the Honda off the road and I checked the map and saw that the nearest town was Stromsville. Doc suggested we take both of the trucks. He woke up the unconscious redneck for me. I drew my knife.

“What what what what?” the man said as Doc woke him up.

“Hi, what’s your name, buddy?” I asked.

“What’s your name?” he said.

“I’m Sergeant Strazynski,” I said. “But you may call me master … Strazynski.”

“Master Strazynski?”

“Yeah, but what’s your name?”

“My name’s William.”

“William? Look, you’re going to be able to walk away from this whole situation alive if you give us some information and it’s accurate. You understand that?”

“Hey, look, I had nothing to do with nothing.”

“Well, you tried to kill us and that puts me off.”

“Well, you tried to invade our town.”

Doc reached forward to squeeze his nose.

“No, stop,” I said.

“We know who you really are,” William said.

“What? Who are we?” I asked.

“We know General King sent you to take our shit. We know King sent you here, so …”

“Well, in the first place, no, those aren’t our orders.”

“That’s what they all say.”

“We would have come from the south and we would have come in force.”

“He usually sends a group about you size and he starts demanding stuff and we decided we’re not giving him stuff anymore. He’s not a king. He’s not nobody.”

“All right. Well, here’s my question.”

“We’ve got nothing less to lose.”

“That’s not … I don’t care. That has nothing to do with why I’m here. We’re looking for a pickup truck that came through here. There was a man in a Marine uniform and there were some civilians with him. Have you seen ‘em?”

“We’ve only been out here for about an hour. They might have come through earlier. We’ve only been out here about an hour.”

“Did anybody drive through your town today? Tonight?”

“I don’t know. We just got here, about an hour ago. You’ll have to go into town but you won’t be too welcome wearing them uniforms in the town.”

I sighed.

“The town,” he went on. “We’ve got pockets in the town where we’re safe. And then King comes in and blows shit up because we won’t give him enough.”

I hadn’t heard of any long patrols bringing back goods.

“General King is in charge of Stony Brook?” Doc asked.

I nodded.

“Oh, he’s a General?” William said. “He keeps calling himself THE King. There’s a little lieutenant. Snobby little lieutenant who comes out.”

“What’s his name?” I asked.

“Akers? Averson? Aberson?” he said.

“Anderson?” Sam said.

“Yeah, that sounds right.”

“What’s he look like?” Doc asked.

“Son of a *****,” I said. “God damn it, we’re on the wrong ****ing side.”

He described Anderson to a T.

“****ing officers, man,” I muttered. “Every time you think you can trust ‘em, they turn out to be this way.”

“They say if we don’t start supplying ‘em with this, you know we’re barely surviving as it is, trying to clear our town out,” William muttered.

“So what are they asking you for? Crops?” Doc asked.

“Half of our supplies: food, ammo, fuel. And it’s like, every third day they want half our stuff.”

“The base is stocked anyway,” Sam said. “What does he need extra for?”

“Maybe he’s crazy,” I said.

“Do the simple math,” Williams went on. “You keep taking half our stuff, eventually we’ll have nothing.”

He looked at us.

“You know, at first it was like ‘Yea! The military’s here! We’ll give ‘em some of our stuff to help.” You know? But I don’t see any patrols through the town. All I know is it’s hard to go out at night because there’s this idiot that goes around shooting everything that moves at night.”

“What? In Stromsville?” I said.

“Yeah. He calls himself the Hand of God or something.”

“Wait a minute …”

I turned to Sam.

“You haven’t been doing any work on the side, have you?” I asked.

“No!” he replied.

“All right,” I said.

I looked on the map and it looked like Stromsville was about 10 miles from Stony Ridge.

“Oh, you killed Jack, I see,” William said. “No great loss. He was an ass.”

“Who’s Jack?” I asked. “Which one was he? The guy that was yelling at us through the microphone?”

William nodded.

“He’s an ass, too,” he said.

“We actually killed all the guys you were out here with,” Doc said.

“I don’t care,” William replied.

“No we didn’t,” I said. “One guy got chewed up.”

“I don’t care. I’m just here to survive. I know very few of these people. I did not like them but … to survive, you must be in a group.”

“So, where you going now?” Doc asked.

“Uh.”

“He’s coming with us to start with,” I said. “We’ll take him back to the town if he wants to go that way.”

“Oh, I’ll go that way. But, I’ll just survive. Find a group and survive. There’s another group in town.”

“That’s the problem,” Doc said. “Will he immediately turn them against us?”

“We’re not going to be there long enough,” I said. “Our orders are to find these people and return with them.”

“I would take off the uniforms,” William said. “They will shoot you.”

“That’s what I was thinking too,” Doc said.

He suggested using some of the civilian clothes from the dead guys but there wasn’t much left of any of them. Sam agreed that he had a good point. The other clothes were either ripped to pieces and covered with blood, or nearly burnt to ashes.

“So, there’s that guy,” Everready said, pointing at William.

“You can do what you want with me, I don’t care,” he said.

“We’re not doing anything to you,” I said.

“Everybody I cared about died,” he went on. “I’m just with a group, trying to survive as long as I can.”

“We’re not going to do anything to you, kid,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s what the King said, with their help, bleah bleah bleah,” he said.

We gathered the weapons and ammo from the bodies and loaded them into the trucks. Doc changed into the clothes of one of the dead guys and there were hunting jackets in the truck that all of us took and put on over our own clothing and uniforms.

“The question is, who do we talk to about this vehicle that went through town?” Doc said. “I guess we gotta go to Stromsville. That’s our only destination.”

“Yeah, we gotta head that way,” I said.

We continued south. Doc drove the Ford with Parker, William in the back of the vehicle. I took the Chevy and Sam rode shotgun. We drove without lights, using our night vision goggles to see. We had only traveled a couple miles down the road when we saw someone heading the same direction that we were on foot.

I radioed that there was someone in the road ahead of us.

Doc slowed the Ford down and pulled up next to him.

“You need a lift?” he asked the man. “Bygones be bygones. You need a ride?”

I took out my Beretta, just in case.

“Beats walking,” the man said.

He climbed into the back with William. I holstered my sidearm.

“Don’t let anything come up behind me and eat me,” I said to Sam.

I got out and went up to the lead truck and climbed into the back.

“William, I’d like to ask him some questions,” I said. “Please don’t say anything until I’ve finished.”

William just shrugged.

“So, who are these people raiding your town that William has told me about,” I said.

“You know who’s raiding our town,” the new one said. “It’s you guys.”

“I’ve never seen your town before.”

“The King sent you here to get our stuff, but we’re not going to let you take our stuff anymore.”

He gave me the same exact story as William.

“We’re here to investigate a Blackhawk that crashed north of here,” I said. “That was our mission. It had nothing to do with your town. You don’t have to believe me. I don’t really care. But we’re trying to find the survivors of this Blackhawk. If we find them, then we go on our merry way and you’ll never see me again. If King sends my ass up here to attack this town, I’m going to shoot him in the face, because he’s just army. I’m … above that.”

“We got enough stuff to deal with in the town,” the man said. “Do what you want. You guys do what you want every time you come here anyway, so …”

“You’re racist too, aren’t you? You’ve already judged us based on the actions of people who dress like us. So you obviously are racist, probably sexist. I’m guessing that you’re also Libertarian too, aren’t you?”

“Do what you gotta do. Robert was the first person who was going to stand up to you and look where that got us.”

“No, if people are stealing from you, you should stand up to them.”

“We told them we were just passing through,” Doc said through the open back window of the truck.

“And then he told us the toll was everything we had,” I said.

“Well, you got out in your military uniforms so obviously you’re from Stony Ridge or you’re going to Stony Ridge,” he said.

“Uh-huh, uh-huh,” I said. “The military is mostly done.”

I climbed out of the truck. Sam had walked up.

“So, when do they come to your town?” he asked. “Is it a regular schedule?”

“No, they just show up one day and say we have to pay tribute to the King,” the man said. “Last thing I know, this is still the United States of America.”

“It is,” I said.

“It’s only been a month since this stuff’s gone down,” he said. “I didn’t know there were new kingdoms set up.”

“Let’s drive,” I said.

We mounted back up and continued south. I radioed Doc and told him to check with the civilians and see where they wanted to be dropped off. He said that they wanted to be dropped off at the school. Doc told me later that the man said that their group, Robert’s group, had been completely wiped out but that he knew of four or five factions in the town. He thought that maybe the school would take them in. Doc suggested talking to the people at the school about the truck and I said we could try, though I doubted they would talk to us.

It was likely the marine didn’t take the same route that we did though.

“Well, they either headed for Stony Ridge or … wherever this Marine thinks might be a safe place,” Doc radioed me.

“That’s obviously not here,” I said. “They took a turn on one of these back roads.”

“Right.”

“We got some options. We can drop these guys off at the school. If you want to talk to the people in the school, you can. I don’t think they’ll have any information. Then, we can backtrack but it’s going to be almost impossible to find these people at this point. I mean, keeping our group safe as well.”

“Right. The heli’s gone back to the base, right?”

“Yeah. We’re out of range.”

Doc asked what our mission was and I told him to rescue any survivors. I noted that Sam had bugged the lieutenant about rescuing them and maybe they had sent us on a one-way trip to get rid of us.

“How many other people like you guys are at the base?” Doc asked.

“Black ops?” I said. “I think we’re the only ones.”

The regular army guys at the base kept to themselves and Doc wondered if they were trying to get rid of Sam and me. The place looked like a little army base, but I’d never heard of it before. Something was going on there before all of the shit went down. We had access to just about everywhere, but there had been places we’d been asked not to go and we’d respected that as, at the time, it didn’t seem like anything was going on there.

It certainly did now.

Doc was for returning to base and he was right. We planned to drop off the civilians we found and then head back to base. I took out a gps and got our position. Sam used it to move ahead on the map and we could see that Stromsville was a tiny town with the main road running right through it. I called for Doc to stop the car and went ahead to the other vehicle and got William to show me on the map about where the school was.

“Has Stromsville got walls or anything like that?” I asked William.

“No,” he said.

“There’s no perimeter?”

“There’s no perimeter.”

He noted there was a faction at the school and another faction in another part of town. He said there were pockets of protected areas but they didn’t get along. He told me the King came in and raided all of them. From the direction we entered town, we would be able to get to the school without dealing with any of the other factions.

“They’re the most friendly,” he noted of the school’s faction.

I told Doc, in front of the two civilians, that we would go to the school and try to talk to the faction there. We’d drop off the civilians and let them know we didn’t know anything about the King raiding people. Then, I admitted, I didn’t know what to do after that.

“I guess we’ll figure that out when we get there,” I said.

I went back to the other truck, leaving the GPS with Doc. We continued into the town.

We pulled up to the school. There was a lot of graffiti on the walls and several older cars were inside a chain link fence that surrounded the building. Two younger men stood guard at the gate. As we pulled up, they readied their weapons. Doc stopped his vehicle and I radioed him, asking him to see if they could ask these people if we could ask them a few questions, and then we’d go on our way.

The two civilians walked up to the gate with their hands up. One of the guards was Hispanic.

“Go get Miguel,” he said to the other. “Go get Miguel.”

I got my H&K ready in my lap in the front seat of the truck. A few minutes later a man who stood about 5’8” tall came out of the school. He was of Spanish descent and wore a police officer’s uniform.

“Is that the cop?” I asked.

“Either that or he robbed the cop,” Sam said.

“Could be,” Doc said over the radio.

I saw that the patch on the uniform said Stromsville Police Department.

Doc got out of the other truck, only armed with his sidearm, which was holstered. He walked up to the gate.

“You tell the King he ain’t taking my stuff no more,” I heard him say over Doc’s ever-open microphone.

“We’re not here for all that,” Doc replied. “We encountered some of your townspeople outside of town. We got into an altercation. We wanted to make sure there weren’t any hard feelings. We brought ‘em back. That’s not what we’re here for.”

“We don’t know these two.”

“Well, I understand that. We understand that there’s a lot of factions here in town and the fractiousness of what’s going on around here, it’s going to end up costing you your whole town.”

“The towns already gone. We just gotta survive as best we can. We get along with the factions in town. It’s when you guys come and take our shit. So, you tell the King you’re not taking our shit no more.”

“We’re not here to take anything. We’re here to return a couple of people to you. I know they’re not your group.”

“These survivors are going to need a group,” Sam said over the radio.

“What do you think about giving the guns to these people,” I also said over the radio.

“Yeah,” Doc said. “In fact, we brought some supplies to you.”

I heard a rifle shot in the distance, behind us somewhere. It sounded like it was a long shot and was a long way away. Impact was on the front of the school building.

“Sniper sniper sniper!” I said over the radio, ducking down.

Miguel and the others drew their weapons and pointed them at us.

“It’s another trick!” he shouted. “It’s another trick!”

Doc ducked for cover, shouting that it was not our people.

“Those are not our guys!” he shouted. “We did not come here for any kind of attack. We came here to bring these people back and ask some questions about a missing family that we’re trying to save.”

Another shot rang out. One of the lights on the truck I was in shattered. I put the truck into gear, spun it around, and turned on all of the lights on the front of the truck, facing away from the school. I was looking for a target but saw none.

“Open the gates! Open the gates! Open the gates!” Miguel shouted. “It’s not them! It’s the Hand of God! Get in here!”

“I forgot about that guy!” I said.

“I didn’t,” Sam replied.

“Okay, he’s yours,” I said. “That Hand of God, he’s yours. God versus God. Good luck.”

More sniper shots hit the area as we hustled to get the two trucks into the compound. I threw mine in reverse and backed the truck into the compound, trying to keep my head low. There was a cracking noise and a spider web appeared on the windshield where a bullet ricocheted off. I slid towards the middle of the truck cab.

Doc ran back to his truck and then ducked for cover when a bullet struck the ground near him. Sam ran back outside the perimeter. Once I got the truck into place, I killed the lights.

“Just look and see where the walkers are heading,” I said over the radio.

A bullet struck the ground near me and I ducked under the truck and tried to see any kind of target. It went silent for a few minutes and then Sam returned.

“He’s moved,” Sam radioed us.

Doc and Parker retrieved the second truck and got it into the perimeter.

There were a lot of children in the school.

“So, you’re not from Stony Ridge?” Miguel asked.

“Yes and no,” Sam said.

“We are from Stony Ridge but we did not know anything about any raids,” I said. “We’re on the outside of this stuff.”

“We were escorting─” Sam started to say.

“We’re from Michigan,” Doc interrupted.

“We were escorting─” Sam started to say again.

“Go Blue!” Doc interrupted again.

“We were originally from Michigan,” Sam said again. “We were ordered to help escort evacuees to Stony Ridge. During the mission, one of the copters went down; we finally got permission to go look for survivors.”

“I lived here my whole life and we never heard about Stony Ridge,” Miguel said. “All of the sudden it appears, right after this starts.”

“It did seem a little suspicious,” I said.

“That’s why we’ve never heard of it,” Sam said.

Miguel explained that he had been a local cop and did a lot with the youth of the town. They didn’t really have a gang problem but a lot of kids came to him for advice. He noted that they were just trying to survive. I told him of our mission as well. I pretty much repeated what Sam had said - of the destruction of Hopesville, the Blackhawk going down, and how we were sent back several days later to find survivors. I told him we had no idea that “The King” was raiding nearby towns for goods and such. We’d only talked about the General and didn’t even know if he actually existed.

Doc asked if he could give us any information about the Marine and cop who might have passed through, but he knew nothing about them.

“When did this Hand of God show up?” Sam asked.

“He showed up right after all this started,” Miguel said. “At first, he gave warnings and we thought he was protecting people. He’d just hit the walkers and stuff. And then he would make announcements that if you were out when he was out … you know the night is his or whatever. He doesn’t do it every night.”

“How does he make announcements?” I asked.

“Over a loudspeaker,” he said. “He’s got a little tape recorder thing that he’ll set.”

“You know everybody in town, right?”

“A lot of people in town.”

“So this guy is from outside of town.”

“He has to be.”

“Maybe we got a new mission,” Doc said.

“I don’t like anybody abusing my call sign, damn it,” Sam said.

We used to call him “God” when he was watching over us from a distance.

We handed over the rifles, giving William and the other man back their guns. Doc also talked to Miguel about taking the two of them in. We learned that the faction they had been in before only consisted of those men we’d dealt with in the trucks. Basically their group was a bunch of drinking buddies who had a house somewhere.

Listening to Miguel talk to William, I learned that Robert was the town drunk and bully.

“Well, you don’t have to worry about that anymore,” Sam said.

“Yeah, he’s as dead as dead can be,” I said.

“We never welcomed him here because …” Miguel said.

“He was a jerk,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“And he wanted to be in charge, probably,” I said.

The man nodded.

He gave us a room for the night. It looked like a school room and was on the second floor. We set our own watches that night in the room, just in case Miguel couldn’t be trusted. Doc also cleaned up Sam’s terrible wound on his hand so that it wouldn’t get infected.

* * *

There was a knock at the door the next morning. It was Miguel.

“Uh … you’re making my people too nervous,” he said. “You need to leave.”

“All right,” I said. “Thanks for letting us spend the night.”

“Nothing personal, but I had a guard outside your door.”

There were two men with automatic weapons standing out there.

“Fair enough,” I said.

“They’re too nervous,” Miguel went on. “They think you’re here to take our stuff and they think it’s another ploy.”

“What stuff do you need?” Sam asked.

“What do we need?” Miguel said. “We need ammo, food, medical supplies, water.”

“What do you have?” Doc asked.

“What are your critical needs?” Sam asked. “If we come across something that can help you, what would be your critical needs?”

“Critical needs is ammo,” Miguel said. “We’re okay on the electricity. We got a generator running. Minimal.”

He noted that there were some teachers there as well as a large number of kids.

“We’re asking you to leave,” he finished.

“Not a problem,” Sam said.

I noted that we could leave the truck I’d been driving behind. We also told them where they could find the Honda Accord up the road. We climbed onto the Ford but before we left, Miguel had one last thing to tell us.

“I don’t lie,” he said. “I’ve never lied in my life. If you say who you are, great. But if you lie to me, next time you come here, we will shoot because we are tired of giving our hard-earned supplies to him. This is not a kingdom, he is not a king, I’m not paying tribute.”

“Well, maybe we’ll see what we can do about that too,” I said.

“When we come back, eventually, we’ll bring gifts,” Sam said.

We headed through town and back to Stony Ridge. I told them we would report in and lie like hell about what we found in Stromsville. Sam and Doc both noted that we should just not mention the town at all. We figured we’d tell them that we spent the night in the truck. I brought up assassinating General King but Sam noted that we should investigate him first.

We drove back, and when we radioed ahead, there was no reply. We stopped the vehicle about a half-mile from the base where we could hide it. We walked that last half mile and when we got close, we saw that the place was completely quiet. There were no helicopters going in or out, nor were there any on the field itself. The place looked completely abandoned.

“Did they evacuate?” Parker asked.

Sam suggested that we go in and check it out.

“I agree,” I said. “We have to find out what’s going on here before we go somewhere else. We can always go back to the hippies, if we have to.”

“You know what?” Doc said. “That sounds like a good idea.”

“Yeah, you’ll get laid, that’s fine,” I said. “If she gets high enough, we’ll all get laid.”

As we walked up to the gate, the place looked abandoned. A lone flagpole with a tattered flag stood in the distance. Sam noticed that the flag was upside down. That meant that the place was under siege. However, there was no sign of walkers.

“I tell you, it’s from the inside,” Doc said. “That’s the only way it could have happened this cleanly. It’s gotta be assault from the inside.”

“That’s what I’m thinking,” Sam said.

The gates were not secured. We were easily able to unlatch them and enter the base. They opened onto the large tower, which had a solitary door that led to a darkened corridor. Rotting bodies filled the entry. Blood and bullet holes were on the walls. A message written on the wall read “Give up hope, all he who enter here.” There was a staircase leading up out of the room.

I walked into the corridor and walked right back out where I vomited. The room was filled with corpses.

“What an amazing smell you’ve discovered,” Sam said, quoting some movie, I guessed.

“God damn it,” I muttered. “We got …”

I vomited again.

“You take me to the nicest places,” Sam quipped.

“Yeah,” I said. “Reminds me of Mexico.”

“We’re not even getting paid for this one,” he said. “The question is, we’ve been gone for 24 hours, granted we’ve never been in this building, but …”

“It could have all happened at once. But you’re right.”

“That quickly?”

“They didn’t come from outside. They would have had to breach the gate. You’re right, it came from inside.”

Doc looked at the bodies and told us that they’d been there for more than a die.

“This happened before we left,” he said.

“How did we not hear it?” I said.

Some of the corpses were civilians, some were military. We checked the bodies to make sure how they died though Doc wasn’t sure how long the bodies had been decomposing. Maybe a month, he told us. And some were more decomposed than others.

“So, this has been a dumping ground,” I said. “Why would they dump them here?”

I covered my mouth and nose with a bandanna, as did the others.

Steps led up to a command center. Lights flickered in the room. I pushed the door open and peeked in. Light came in through several large windows and control panels were all around the room. Slumped bodies lay on the floor. They had not been double tapped and had no head trauma so I assumed they were going to move. We had come into the tower through an interior wall.

I signaled them to advance and then entered the room. I could also see another door on the same wall we’d come in at the opposite side of the room.

“Five corpses,” I said over the radio.

Doc suggested tapping them as we went by. I told him I’d tap them from the door. I moved into the room and tried to get an angle on one of the corpses. The others entered the room behind me.

I took a shot on one of the things in the head.

Suddenly, the door swung shut behind us and there was a click. Parker tried it but found it locked. A light over the door flashed, indicating an electrical lock.

“We’ve been set up,” I said.

“Can I blow the door?” Parker said.

“Yes,” I said.

That’s when the five corpses stood up and lurched towards us. Doc lifted his weapon and fired into the head of the zombie nearest him. Sam shot his Beretta at the same one, also hitting it in the head, and the horror dropped.

Parker fired at the walker nearest to me, taking its head off and finishing the one I had shot.

“Crap! Crap! Crap!” I said.

I fired at the walker now nearest to me but only creased its skull. It stumbled but did not fall. Doc shot one in the face and blew its head clean off. Sam fired at the one I had not shot yet and blew part of his skull off, though the thing didn’t fall. Parker finished the one off that had come at me and finished it. I put my H&K into the last one’s face and blew off a chunk of its skull but the damned thing wouldn’t die. It grabbed me.

“Get off me,” I said. “Get off me. Get off me.”

Doc crossed the room and shot the thing in the head, killing it instantly.

“Thank you,” I said. “Okay, blow the door.”

“So, what did you say about those weekend warriors?” Doc said.

“You’ve been promoted,” I said.

Parker looked at the door that had us locked in and worked on bypassing the lock. We figured we’d use the demo charge on the other door. He managed to bypass the lock so we had a way out.

Looking around, I realized there were an amazing amount of bullet holes in the room and most of the glass panes were broken. There was also a lot of old blood on the floor. I popped a new magazine in my H&K. Doc was looking around so I started to look around carefully as well.

Sam suggested that it was a defense for the place. A trap that would kill anyone who tried to get into the base. He noted that if you were armed and ready, you would get in. Then they would bring in more walkers that hadn’t animated yet, and set them up.

“I think they were using this as a storage area,” he said. “If you can get past this, you can go in.”

“So, more walkers in the next room?” I asked.

“Not necessarily in the next room,” he said.

“Deeper in,” Doc said.

“Somewhere in a … like a cattle pen,” Sam said. “Or a dog kennel. You let the dogs loose; you keep the others penned up. Something happens to these dogs; you’ve got more you can put into the room.”

I looked around and saw cameras. I shot one of them. Sam told me not to waste ammo.

Just then the other door opened. Lt. Anderson stepped through and I aimed my weapon at him.

“You need to lower your weapon there, Sergeant,” he said.

Behind him were several soldiers. They were all heavily armed.

“Congratulations,” he said. “You passed the test.”

“What test?” I asked.

“Everybody that comes through here has to go through this test to make sure they’re worthy to stay here. We’re not having any less-desirables here. We’re in a war situation now. I want nobody that’s not fit for combat in this facility.”

“Where’s General King?”

“He’s in his office.”

“Where are the Blackhawks?”

“They’re underground.”

“What happened to the civvies we brought here?” Doc asked.

“They’re still where you left ‘em,” Lt. Anderson replied. “But we are not accepting any more … we don’t know who is going to come in. We don’t know if we have any desirables coming in or not. With the looting, we’ve been attacked by the city a couple of times. Them idiots in that old burg, they call it Stramsville, Stromboli, something like that. They hit our supply lines a couple of times.”

“There’s supply lines?” I said.

“Well, we don’t have supply lines anymore because they’ve pretty much cut our supply lies,” he replied.

“From where?” I asked.

“From where?”

“From where? Where are the supplies coming from?”

“The south.”

I didn’t believe anything he was saying.

“Sir, reporting back,” Sam said. “We couldn’t find any survivors.”

“No survivors?” Lt. Anderson said.

“No survivors.”

“You must have missed them because we got a group of survivors in earlier yesterday. Said they were from a Blackhawk.”

“Well, there were none when we got there.”

“There was one,” I said.

“Just walkers,” Sam went on.

“He was dead when he blew himself up in the remains of the Blackhawk,” I said.

I was stunned by this turn of events.

“Yes, a Marine and some civilians came in here earlier today,” Lt. Anderson said. “We put them through the test as well and they passed.”

“All right,” I said. “I apologize for pointing my weapon at you sir. I was a little strung up.”

“Know your place, sergeant,” he said.

“Yes sir,” I said. “We’ve got some gear that we recovered en route. Are we allowed to bring it back into the base?”

“We’ll send somebody out to get it.”

I felt like something was really, really not right.

“In a couple days, we’ll have another mission for you,” Lt. Anderson went on. “We’re going to take back the town of Stromsville.”

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“We’re tired of their presence and hitting our supply lines. We’ve got to teach them a lesson.”

“All right. Well, we’ve been on the road in this hell for a day. Permission to go back to the barracks and shower?”

“Yes. But first go to the medical department. I want to make sure nobody’s been bit.”

“All right.”

I headed back out the door we’d come in, hoping that I was looking very dazed. As soon as I got to the steps, I ran down them. Doc and Parker were close behind me and I hissed for Parker to set the demo charge on the door.

They broke more windows out of the tower from above and then fired shots at us but we ran across the killing field and headed for cover as quickly as we could. None of the bullets hit us and then an explosion rocked the tower. I could hear Doc cursing over his always-open microphone as we ran.

We got back to the truck and drove off as quickly as possible. We planned to head to Stromsville and warn them of the impending attack. Then we would continue north to the hippy farm.

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