“I scrape zombie guts off my boots all the time,” Jenni added.

Felix just grumbled something that they couldn’t make out and began to read the words of Socrates.

“And they say we are,” Katarina scoffed.

Jenni smiled a little and tried to get comfortable in the truck. It felt odd riding shotgun with Katarina instead of Katie. But Katie was back in the fort, helping with other areas of importance. Jenni suspected Travis had something to do with Katie not being assigned to any of the groups heading out of the fort. Her pregnancy had been a shock when announced. Most of the fort was happy to welcome a new life into their barren world, but others felt having children was irresponsible. The comments were never made around Katie or her husband, Travis, but Jenni heard them.

Her own feelings about the baby were mixed. On the one hand, she was happy for her friend and ready to be an aunt, but on the other she feared for that new life being born into a world full of the hungry dead. Was it really fair to bring a new life into a world so full of death? Would it have been fair to try to raise her boys in this undead world? Jason was older, almost an adult, but Mikey and Benji would have lost whatever remained of their childhood innocence.

Frowning, she felt her stomach tighten at the thought of her dead children. Tears burned in her eyes as she realized she would rather her boys were with her than dead. Juan would have been a good father, and they would have worked hard to give the boys a good life. But that would never happen. Somewhere, her boys were part of the undead hordes.

“Something is going on,” Katarina said, pulling Jenni away from her dark thoughts.

The caravan was slowing down.

“We got problems ahead,” Ed’s voice crackled over the CB.

“Bunch of zombies have a van surrounded. Looks like people are up on top of it. Whole way is blocked.” Ed sounded peeved by the whole situation.

“We have to save them!” This was Curtis’ voice coming through the static.

Jenni could imagine the grim expression on the young policeman’s face.

“Got any ideas on how to handle it? ‘Cause I’m listening,” Ed answered.

With a nod, Katarina shifted gears and moved their truck out of the line to drive to the front where Ed’s vehicle, a school bus, sat idling at the top of a hill. As they drew up next to the bus, Jenni scowled.

It was hard to see how many people were on top of the van, but it was easy to see the crowd of zombies gathered around them. It looked like the van had stalled out and the occupants had managed to get on top of it through a sunroof. The door on the side was open and zombies were jostling each other to get inside. Another group was busily consuming someone near the side of the road.

Ed slid open the window next to the driver’s seat and peered out at them.

His grizzled face looked pissed beneath his battered hat. Jenni pushed the button for the window and it slid down. “What do you think, Ed?”

“Got at least three dozen down there trying to get to those folks. I figure we can either drive close enough to try to get them to come to us, then flatten them. Or we can open fire and risk hitting the people.”

“They won’t draw off if they’ve got fresh food in front of them,” Jenni reminded him. “What if we get close enough to thin out the outer edge with the guns, then go in and clear out the rest with machetes, spears and my trusty ax?”

Curtis walked up next to the vehicles, his weapon out.” His truck was idling behind Ed’s. “We need to hurry whatever the hell we’re doing. It’s getting bad down there.”

The zombies were so anxious to get to the people on top of the van, they were beginning to rock the vehicle. Someone on top was trying to stand to wave down the caravan and Jenni gasped as he tumbled off into the zombies. His screams tore through the cold air, then broke off abruptly.

The zombies were moaning with delight as they swarmed him.

“We gotta move now!” Jenni shoved her door open, nearly ramming it into Curtis. Yanking her ax out of the truck, she motioned with it for Felix and Katarina to follow her. Shoving the ax into the specially made sheath on her back, she slammed the door shut with her hip. Determined to bust some zombie heads, she headed down the hill.

“We don’t have a plan, Jenni!” Ed shouted after her.

Jenni stalked toward the undead swarm. “Kill the fuckers! That’s the plan!”

The zombie slammed its mangled hand against the fort wall again, growling with what sounded like frustration.

Katie looked down at it from her sentry post, her blond curls flowing in the wind. Rubbing her cold, reddened hands together, she studied the creature’s distorted features. Most of its flesh had torn off and one eyeball rolled up toward her in a gouged socket. How it could see her, she could not imagine, but it howled even more desperately as it caught sight of her.

It had no lips, so its bloodied, decaying teeth looked hideously large as they chomped together hungrily.

“I can’t even tell if you’re a boy or a girl,” Katie muttered, blowing on her fingers to warm them.

“So gross,” Stacey remarked, peering over the edge of the wall. The slim, young woman leaned her elbows on the cold, cement bricks and stared at the zombie. “I think it’s a boy.”

“That one patch of hair on the back of its head is kinda long,” Katie pointed out.

“Yeah, but lots of redneck boys have long ponytails. Trust me. There were a lot of guys back in my old town with ponytails longer than mine.” Stacey reached behind her head to tug on her short braid. She looked far healthier than she had when first rescued. She had been terribly thin, her shoulder blades and collar bone sticking out of her tanned skin in sharp angles. Now she was fit and muscular and recently, the former coach had started sports activities in the fort to keep people fit.

“Clothes are kinda on the neutral side. Yellow shirt, I think.”

“Maybe.” Katie tilted her head as she studied the creature. “I think it’s a girl. Still ugly as sin.”

“Uglier. Guess we should put it down.”

Now that her hands weren’t cramped from the cold and the bloat from her pregnancy, she reached out for the huge crossbow that was rigged up on a sliding track. It was one of Jason’s creations and it made killing the zombies up against the walls a lot easier. Using the mirrors attached to the contraption, she adjusted the crossbow using a lever to get it into the accurate position.

“I’m not saying I miss the big crowds of them, but lone zombies just seem so sad,” Stacey decided.

“Until they try to eat you,” Katie reminded her.

“Well, there is that.” Stacey watched Katie carefully aim. “Jason is like a genius, huh?”

“Jenni says that he’s always been one of those kids tinkering with stuff.

She said he once took apart his Xbox, put it back together and it still worked. I don’t think she’s surprised at some of the things he’s come up with lately. But I’m pretty stunned. For a teenager, he’s pretty amazing.”

Katie checked her mirrors and saw that she had the zombie perfectly lined up. She squeezed the trigger.

The bolt slammed into the top of the zombie’s head and it fell backwards onto the street, limbs askew. Later, a cleanup crew would remove the body and toss it into the landfill on the outskirts of town.

“Penis! I see a penis! It’s a boy!” Stacey sounded far more excited than she should be.

“Gross!” Katie made a comical face. “That is so disgusting!” She couldn’t help but look. “Ugh! Stacey!”

Stacey giggled and wiped her bangs away from her forehead. “It flopped out!”

“It’s not funny! It’s a poor dead guy.” Despite herself, Katie was laughing.

“My God, the gallows humor around here is thick.”

“Freud would have had a blast studying us,” Stacey agreed.

“Oh, well. Either we be a little crazy and laugh at the absurdities of life or just give into the despair and die.” Katie shrugged and reset the crossbow, taking care to show Stacey each step.

“I’ve done despair. It doesn’t help anything.” Stacey fell silent for a moment, obviously pondering something. “The fort hasn’t really had anyone go nuts and commit suicide or anything has it?”

“Well, a city councilman in the first days tried to save his zombie family and ended up eaten. And we do have the Vigilante pitching people over the wall.” Katie slipped her hands into her jacket. Her swelling belly was straining the zipper. She would need to find a new winter coat. “Some of us haven’t handled things as well as others.” She thought briefly of Jenni.

“And others have used the crazy to survive.”

“Who do you think the Vigilante is?” Stacey pulled the collar of her coat up a little closer to her face and huddled down into it.