In this book Pearl’s story is more fully told and many deleted scenes are added back to more fully tell the story of the Zombie Killers as a group.
ZOMBIE: THE FINAL MISSION
Copyright 2017 W. G. Sweet. All rights reserved foreign and domestic.
Portions copyright 2010, 2014, 2015 by W. G. Sweet.
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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
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This material has NOT been edited for content
October 18th Year One
The ledge outside the cave was empty when Bear walked out. He pulled the door shut behind him to keep the cool air from rushing in. The top of the ledge seemed to catch the gusts of wind as they swept up from the valley floor to clear the top of the small mountain above the cave. From there the winds would work their way higher into the mountain ranges beyond. The real mountains, Bear thought of them, that lifted up so high they were sometimes lost in the clouds that swept the sky.
He looked up at the sky now. An involuntary thing he had noticed himself doing more and more. He expected that soon he would look up to the sky and see snow flakes drifting down. The air was cold, but not so bad that he felt he should raise his collar or slip the hood of his jacket over his head. A few months back he had begun to grow a beard, it insulated his face now; full and heavy. What cold did get through felt good on his face after the heat inside the cave. He was not the sort of man that liked to be confined: Felt a need for company. There had been a time where he had sought those comforts, but he believed that time was far behind him.
He walked to the rock wall and stared off down into the valley. He had been here for just a few weeks, but it was a few weeks too long. He could feel it. Winter was on the way and he did not want to be trapped here.
One of the first things to change when he had come to The Nation was Cammy. She had come before him, while he had still been out in the real world. She had fallen in love with it. With the people. It was home to her. She fit right in just that fast. He hardly recognized her when he saw her: When he had come back there had been no more pretense of a relationship between them, but there had been no relationship with Beth either, at least not the relationship he had hoped for: Thought that they had discussed, agreed upon; both wanted. It had confused him and it still did.
He had thought it was something that both of them wanted, but maybe it had simply been another heat of the moment relationship. Maybe that was all it was. In any case, whatever it was, it would not matter much longer. Mike had called the council together. A secret meeting in the barn shortly after they had come back, and then a more public meeting in the main area of the cave a few days after that.
Bear settled his weight onto his elbows that he had planted atop the stone wall, and looked out over the valley.
The OutRunners were a reality. Himself, Billy and Pearl, Billy’s woman. Pearl had come from The Nation. She had been doing part of the job already when Billy met her. She was as tough as any person needed to be to do the job. The council had replaced her with someone else to do the patrol job she had been doing, and freed her up to go out on their first mission as a team. It would be the three of them making up that team this time; they would add others as they saw a need. For now, Bear thought, it would be best to be smaller.
The first mission was weapons. That was the real mission. The public mission was building supplies. Lumber, steel prefab buildings: Large sheets of acrylic and more. There was a lengthy list. It seemed impossible to Bear, since it had not been long since they had come back, but The Nation was nearing fifteen hundred people. Building materials were critical.
The saw mill was nearly ready, and they could begin logging some forested valleys around them, but the need was immediate. No one knew when the snow would fly, and they needed to build as soon as they could. Bear was sure they could find both the materials and weapons they needed and be back before the first snow fell.
The council was talking about a permanent base at the old campground. That had been a private discussion down in the barn, after the big meeting. So when they came back through there might be people there already, building an outpost of The Nation. The way they had talked, it seemed like a certainty. They even had someone, or several someones, in mind to live there. It didn’t surprise Bear. It might even be something he would consider rather than living in The Nation itself, but he hoped to be on the road doing missions all the time instead. He didn’t really need a place to call home.
The afternoon was fading. True, the days were longer, but after the first few months he didn’t really notice it all that much. The sun rose, you fit as much into the daylight hours as you could and then the sun set. It was times like this: Times where it had been a long day, and it should be over and it wasn’t; that you noticed how much more daylight there was.
Today had been his day of indecision. Not on the surface. On the surface he had been his gruff self. No indecision at all. He knew exactly what he wanted, but that front was for the public. The people that came and went in his life. Just like the old days, nothing much had changed: He had been a loner then and he was still a loner now. Today he had, had a great deal of indecision. He had simply kept it to himself.
Bear reached into his top jacket pocket, retrieved his pouch, and then put his fingers to work rolling a cigarette. Tobacco was about the only thing he had remembered to bring with him. He fished a wooden kitchen match from his pocket and lit the cigarette, pulling the smoke through his nose and into his lungs. The door opened and closed behind him and he turned from the view of the valley. “Mike,” he smiled.
“Bear.” Mike leaned against the wall and looked down into the valley. He looked up at Bear. “Tim says they’re ready.”
Bear took a deep pull on the cigarette, rubbed it out against the heel of his boot and then straightened back up. He dropped the butt into his pocket. “Done?” He raised his eyebrows.
“Says so,” Mike agreed. The door opened and Ronnie and Bob stepped out. The conversation from inside the meeting area seemed to flow out the open door with them. Loud; a woman laughing; kids talking. Other sounds mixed in with them, but they were cut off as Bob let the door swing close.
“Going down to look?” Bob asked.
“Just,” Bear agreed. “Mike just come to get me.”
“Kind of curious myself,” Bob said.
“Yeah,” Ronnie agreed. “Patty says she saw him working on the last one earlier. She said it looked like something out of a science fiction novel.”
Bear laughed. “If it drives and gets me from point A to point B, that’s all I care about.”
“I think,” Bob said, “based on what I saw earlier today, it will get you to point B with no trouble. Maybe even a few points past it.”
Bear laughed as he followed Mike down off the main ledge area to the sloping path that lead down into the valley.
“I don’t care,” Beth said. “I don’t”
Patty arched her eyebrows. “You want to live that kind of life?”
Beth shrugged. “I think I caught it from Bear. It just feels too closed in for me. I don’t want to be here. I don’t think I could live this kind of life.”
“Honey, they almost got you once,” Candace said.
“And might again,” Patty added. She shivered at the thought: When she had seen Mike’s missing finger from his encounter with the dead she had been even more upset than Candace had been. Beth had lost an arm and she wanted to go right back out. Patty couldn’t see that at all.
Beth nodded. She locked eyes with Candace, shifted to Patty and then back to Candace. “Okay… I love him. He’s not going to stay here. Tomorrow he’s going to leave. He’s not the kind of man that can live this kind of life. He needs… I don’t know… Whatever it is, it isn’t this… Safety…. A soft bed… Full stomach… Predictability. Bear doesn’t want that. Never did, even before this happened he didn’t want it. I know, he told me.”
“He didn’t want it then he doesn’t want it now, if I stay here then he is out of my life. I don’t even know if a woman can hold him… Have a place in his heart… But I know I’ll never get a chance to find out if he goes and I stay here. And… I meant what I said too. Maybe I caught it from Bear. But I don’t know,” She turned and looked out the thick plastic panel that served as a window out onto the ledge. Bear, Mike, Ronnie and Bob were gone. She hadn’t seen them go. Sometime while she had been talking they had walked away. “Damn,” she said now. “They left.” She turned more fully toward the door.
“Well wait,” Candace told her. Patty reached down and pulled her to her feet. “I’m not gonna miss this then,” Candace said as she made her feet.
Beth laughed nervously. “You think I should tell him then?”
“What?” Patty said.
“Well, you know,” Beth started.
“You better,” Candace said. “I’m as big as a house and I not only got up, but I’m following you down into the valley.” At seven months pregnant with twins Candace was popped out in front. Patty was nearly as big.
“Maybe you shouldn’t,” Beth said.
“Bull,” Candace said. “I have to walk home anyway. It’s on the way… Sort of.”
“Sure it is,” Beth laughed. “You’re sure?”
“I’m sure… You have to tell him, Beth. If he is what you want? Tell him. Tomorrow will be too late.”
Patty nodded. “I would,” she agreed.
Candace grunted as she slipped her arm into the sleeve of her coat and then shrugged it on. She tried to pull it closed in the front, but it lacked a few inches of material. Patty snickered as did Beth. Candace laughed herself after a few more attempts to close it. She let loose of it, turned back to Beth and smiled. “Lead on,” She said. “Lead on.”
Tim stepped away from the trucks, one hand on the canvas he had draped over them, and then tugged sharply, pulling it away.
Bear whistled low. Behind him, Billy wolf whistled.
“Wow. I’m friggin’ impressed,” Ronnie told him. He walked to the nearest truck, ran one hand over the front fender and then walked to the one in back of it.
“How the hell did you do it,” Bear asked.
Tom, Bob and Billy stepped closer to the nearest truck from where they had been talking. Tim nodded at them. “Couldn’t have without them. No way,” Tim said.
“You knew?” Mike asked Bob.
“I did?” Bob asked.
Bear laughed. “I’ve seen Billy’s Van. Saw him build it… I guess the van’s staying behind?”
“No way,” Billy said. “It’s reinforced six ways to Sunday. Same as this is. But I had these guys,” He glanced from Bob to Tom. “Unbelievable mechanics. I mean unbelievable.”
“Really though, Tom and I just did what Tim and Billy told us to do,” Bob said. “Those two had the knowledge… The idea.”
Bear walked a complete circle around the trucks. “These are serious damn trucks.”
“It’s parts from what we had… We had a few we had built to get us here. We really didn’t use those anymore, but all of us worked on those trucks. I just took the best from those and some spare stuff we had,” Tim said.
“They’re goddamn tanks,” Mike said.
“They are tanks,” Tom agreed. “Believe me.”
The trucks sat high from the barn floor where they had put them together. Steel plating rose halfway up the bodies. Heavy steel mesh covered the glass. The side glass was reinforced with steel plating that left only small slots for rifles in the side window areas. Steel discs covered most of the tire surface area, leaving very little to get a bullet into. Bear squatted and looked over first one and then the other.
“There is another tire inside that tire filled with rubber. We had cans of the stuff. You spray it and it sets up hard. If they do get the tire, she’ll drop about two inches and ride like the tank she is, but you’ll be able to drive it,” Bob told him as he squatted beside the tire. He motioned up under the truck. “All the vulnerable stuff is up and out of the way. Brake lines. Transmission lines. Electrical harness. Not a guarantee, but it should stay clear from harm.”
“Christ,” Bear said as he rose from the squat. “This will do the job.” He put one size fourteen foot into the metal stirrup that depended from the bottom of the cab and hoisted himself up into the cab of the huge suburban. Monitors showed images from the cameras mounted outside the truck.
“Pretty impressive,” Bear said as he looked over the rest of the interior. “Gas?”
“Diesel,” Tim said from the open doorway. “Both of them. Easier to get. More power, more dependable too. The cameras are assignable. Choose what you want to keep an eye on the most.”
Bear nodded, reached down and turned the key. The big diesel rumbled to life. Tim had hooked hoses to the tailpipes of both trucks earlier. Bear listened a few moments and then shut it down. In the silence that descended they all turned as the door to the barn squeaked open.
Beth stepped through the door, Candace, Patty and Lilly behind her. Bear jumped down from the truck and landed lightly for a man his size.
“You walked down here,” Mike asked Candace.
“No, I called a cab,” Candace joked. She looked around, spied a bale of hay, took Patty’s hand and made her way to it. She sat down with a sigh. “Ugh. It’s like carrying around another person strapped to your body!”
“Honey it is another person,” Patty said and laughed. “Two other persons!”
Mike came over with Ronnie.
“What did Jan say? Two trucks in your garage?” Ronnie asked.
Patty laughed as she nodded her head. She stretched up and kissed Ronnie.
Candace giggled. “Jan gets some good ones in, doesn’t she?” Mike bent low and kissed her.
“What gives, honey,” Mike asked.
Candace nodded in the direction of Beth and Bear.
Bear stood by the door of the truck where he had jumped down, and watched Beth as she walked up. Her arm was all but healed. The flesh still pink and new, but healed. The sleeve of the shirt was tied shut on that side. She carried a machine pistol across one shoulder, and a 9 mm at her waist. Bear knew there was also a long knife in an ankle case. He grinned at her as she walked toward him, looking over the truck as she came. She stopped and looked up at Bear as she came up to him.
“A woman after my own heart,” Bear said jokingly.
Beth kept a serious look on her face as she stared directly at him.
Bear cleared his throat. “I was kidding around, Beth… I meant the…”
She cut him off. “I know what you meant… The tough side of me… The side that would climb right up into that cab and ride with you. The kind of woman that gets restless around too many people.” She held his eyes. “The kind of woman that could put up with the constant travel. Life with an edge to it.” She still held his eyes for a moment after she finished talking. She finally looked away.
Bear cleared his throat. “Exactly,” he said quietly. “I imagine you would be going with me tomorrow if you had not…” He trailed off.
She turned back to him. “If I had not lost my arm?”
“I’m sorry, Beth… I wish I had not had to take it.” He turned away, running one hand over the swell of the hood and a fresh air duct that ran from the engine up to the roof line.
“And you think that somehow that changed me? Who I am? How I am?” Her voice rose slightly. Across the barn Candace looked over and then went back to talking to Mike and Bob about something. Beth lowered her voice. “It irritates me, I guess. That’s why I’ve stayed away. You pissed me off, Bear. And you hurt me with your assumptions. I am no different from what I was, Bear. No different.”
Bear’s face turned serious. “What are you saying, Beth?”
“I’m saying that when you leave in the morning I want to be in that other seat,” she held his eyes for a moment and then looked away. She ran her own hand over the thick steel plating that armored the truck. She looked back up. Her eyes dark and serious “Bear,” she took a deep breath. “Bear I love you… I have loved you since the first, Bear. I kept it to myself when Cammy was in the picture… I wanted to say it… I had to, Bear.” Her voice caught at the end and she turned away.
Bear’s heavy hand cupped her chin and turned her face back and up to his own. The tears she had felt threatening, slipped over her bottom eyelids and spilled across her face. He pulled her to him. “Then you go,” he said quietly. “We go together.”
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