Katie bit her bottom lip, not sure what she should say, then opted out by just shrugging. “No clue. I’m sure everyone has a theory.”
“She wasn’t here when the first guy got pitched over the wall.”
“Yeah. Ritchie.” Katie remembered far too vividly the young man’s mutilated body as he stared up at her from the road, duct tape still over his mouth.
“Well, there goes my theory.” Stacey watched the street thoughtfully. “A few people think the Vigilante is doing the right thing.”
“I had no love for Phil or Shane, but what the Vigilante did to them was inhumane. Stranding them with gimped weapons in the middle of the zombie deadlands.” Katie shivered.
“Maybe not. But what if the Vigilante gets mad at you, or Eric, or someone else you care about? What if the Vigilante kills them out of some skewed sense of justice? The Vigilante killed Jimmy because he panicked when we took the hotel. We all have our moments. All of us. We’re human. And zombies are so fucking terrifying how can we not be afraid?”
Stacey’s brow furrowed at Katie’s words. “When you put it that way...”
Katie pulled her cap down on her head a little tighter, the cold wind whistling in her numb ears. “Life is hard enough without worrying about someone judging you and casting you out of the fort based on their own sense of right or wrong.”
Stacey leaned her elbows on the wall, avoiding the rebar poking out of the top of the cement blocks. “I just want to feel safe.” Her gaze was on the mutilated body of the zombie below. “But I never really do.”
They smelled Calhoun before they saw him. The scrawny, old man shoved them roughly aside and looked down into the road.
“Hey, Calhoun, watch it! Katie is pregnant, you know!”
He scribbled in a battered notebook, making quick notations with a stubby pencil. Katie craned her head to take a peek, but couldn’t make sense of the marks.
Stacey covered her nose with her gloved hands, trying not to gag while Katie felt her eyes watering. Calhoun was more ripe than usual.
Calhoun whipped out a strange contraption that looked like rulers taped together at odd angles and held it up, studying various views. Grumbling something about the city planners being imbeciles, he made more notations.
“Calhoun, um, we’re supposed to be guarding this area. You need to move along.”
“Dear God, woman! Do you understand the gravity of what I am doing?
No, you do not! I am trying to make this fort safe from the messed up clones.” Calhoun pointed down at the corpse in the road. “Dear God, they don’t even have the decency to cover their junk. Heathens!”
Folding her arms over her breasts, Katie stared at Calhoun, one eyebrow arched.
“Fine! I will return later!” Calhoun whipped around, his long coat slapping their legs. His long scrawny legs carried him down the stairs past Travis, who was just starting up to the sentry post. The cold wind ruffled his hair over his furrowed brow as he climbed up the wood steps.
Katie winced. “I’m busted.” She fumbled with the crossbow, making sure it was locked into place.
“Oh, yeah. Without a doubt. He has that look, too.”
Katie slowly turned to see Travis stepping onto the platform. He looked amused and annoyed all at the same time. He folded his arms slowly over his chest and cocked his head.
“Aren’t you supposed to be helping Peggy with the inventory?”
“Yeah, but Stacey needed training and the supply caravan isn’t back yet so Jenni couldn’t help her so...” She rolled her eyes. “Okay, okay. I’m just sick of being cooped up and not doing anything.”
Travis kissed her brow lightly, his hand sliding over her belly. “Yeah, but you’re pregnant and, after that bad cold you had, Charlotte told you to take it easy.”
“Standing here, manning the crossbow, and shooting zombies really isn’t that taxing,” Katie assured him. She hated to admit she was a little weak from her illness. “I need to feel I’m doing something.”
“Inventory is doing something,” Travis assured her.
“You’re just saying that because you don’t want to do it.”
“True,” he admitted, grinning. “But it keeps you inside and warm until you’re back to full fighting form.”
Katie tried not to look as peeved as she felt. Her husband was damn annoying when he was being over-protective, but she really couldn’t blame him. This was their first child, and conditions were not the best for bringing a baby into the world. Medicine was limited, and their food supply was not very rich in nutrients. They were living off of a lot of processed food, but there was hope the gardens would have a good yield and bring them healthier meals.
“You better not be trying to keep me off of sentry duty when I am feeling one hundred percent. I don’t like being coddled. I already agreed not to leave the fort on supply or rescue runs.” Katie gave him a grumpy glare, but let herself lean into him.
Travis hugged her and kissed her lightly on the cheek. “You’re so cold.
You don’t need to relapse. Please get in where it’s warm.”
Stacey was trying not to pay attention to their discussion, but she was smiling slightly.
“Fine. Then you finish up here.” Katie put on her gloves now that she wasn’t manning the crossbow.
“And let me know when the caravan gets back. They’re running late and I’m starting to worry,” Katie added.
His lips were cool against hers. “I will. Now, get going. Peggy was muttering about you not helping her.”
“Fine. Fine.” Katie waved to Stacey, then climbed down the stairs.
On the ground, she felt even colder. The construction site wasn’t nearly as busy or crowded as it had been in the first days. A large area was roped off for a garden, and a few people were working at breaking up the earth.
Juan’s mother, Rosie, was among them. She looked up briefly and waved.
Katie waved back, then headed to the entrance of the hotel. She felt uneasy despite the security of the walls and she hoped Jenni and the others would be back soon. She shut the door behind her, blocking out the cold wind that moaned like the undead zombies in the world beyond the walls.
Her nickname wasn’t Loca for nothing, Jenni thought as she slipped her pistol out of her belt, flipped off the safety and began to systematically shoot the zombies. Gouts of decaying gore exploded out of the tops of their rotting heads.
The zombies were so intent on their feast, they didn’t even look up as she approached. The stench of fresh death overwhelmed the reek of decay, and Jenni tried hard not to gag. She continued to fire at the zombies on the edge of the feeding frenzy. The zombies were tearing at each other frantically, ripping away tattered clothes and rotting flesh, as they tried to get to the freshly dead humans. Their moans were a terrible rumble.
Curtis slid into her peripheral view, also firing his weapon. Felix jogged slightly ahead of her, two pistols firing into the crowd. Behind them, Katarina had taken up a sniper position and was picking off any zombie that got too close to the people huddled on top of the van. As one managed to snag the foot of someone on the van, Katrina’s shot severed the zombie’s hand.
As Jenni drew closer, she could clearly see the zombies huddled over the dead human. They were stuffing flesh into their mouths with feverish delight. Dead, gray flesh was peeling off of their bones, and their clothes were tatters. Many had limbs missing and a few had odd objects sticking out of their bodies such as knives, pieces of furniture, tree limbs, and, in one weird case, an umbrella.
Jenni felt her throat tighten as a small child zombie staggered into view.
It was gripping part of a bloody rib in its hand while trying to fight off the much larger zombies reaching for it. Jenni put a bullet through the child’s forehead.
“Reloading,” she said, and Curtis moved in front of her to cover.
The old clip slid out with ease and she quickly tucked it into her jean pocket before slamming a new one home. Looking up, she saw their situation had just taken a nasty turn.
The zombies were heading up the hill.
The fort people were moving down the hill in two lines. The first group unleashed on the zombies, then the second group took over as first reloaded. At least twenty zombies were heading toward them. These were the old variety, slow and decaying, but they were still a menace. The walking dead jerked and tumbled in a bizarre dance as they were gunned down, bullets ripping through their mottled features and punching out the back of their skulls.
“Nearly got them all now,” Ed called out.
“Watch out! Watch out!” a deep voice thundered from on top of the van.