She had been a walking bulls-eye in school. Her mother was almost fifty and her father well into his sixties when she was born. He had died before her tenth birthday. Katarina had tried to believe they had her out of love, but years of hard housework made her wonder if they had been lucky enough to give birth to a live in maid that would help them through their twilight years. All her older siblings, nearly 20 years her senior, ignored her parents and her. With good reason, she thought. Her mother had been a nagging shrew, but Katarina had stayed with her faithfully until the end...
..until the end of the world.
She still couldn’t believe Bill wanted to have a drink with her. It just wasn’t that he had asked her, it was how he had asked her.
Men didn’t usually hit on her. At least good men.
Of course, in her entire life she had been with only two men and both of them had done a good job of ripping out her heart. It wasn’t until she finally got a job outside of her mother’s stuffy home that she had even mingled with men. In high school, she hadn’t had one single date.
Her mother had sculpted her life to be her helper and Katarina had dutifully fallen into that role. When it became apparent to her mother that her retirement check wasn’t stretching far enough, Katarina had been ordered to work.
Katarina, the ever faithful and long suffering daughter, finally had an excuse to escape the house and work at the local diner. It was then she learned how cruddy men could be. And worse yet, she had learned how to avoid dangerous situations. Sometimes out-of-towners were the worst.
Some of the truckers seemed to think she was easy pickings because she wasn’t “that purty” and had to be hard up. More than one had told her that, “You’re damn lucky to have any man wanting to stick it to ya.”
She had smiled and bore it all. That was what she always did when things were tough. She took care of business. In Nerit, she had found someone just like her. Yes, Nerit was different, darker, and more confident, but Katarina knew Nerit understood her immense sacrifices and her inner strength.
Katarina always did the dirty jobs. The hard jobs. And without complaint.
The day the first zombie rushed into the diner and latched onto a customer, it was Katarina who had picked up the cleaver and brought it down on its head. And when the customer rose up and lunged for her despite the huge gash in his throat, she had once more brought the cleaver down. Looking outside, she saw what was happening and ran out to her little car, blood splattered, and with the cleaver in one hand.
When she reached the quaint house she shared with her Mom, she found her mother lying on the sidewalk, struggling to get up as two neighbor kids tore at her. Katarina had coldly slammed the cleaver down on their little heads, and then looked down at her dying mother.
“Sorry, Mom,” she had said, and delivered her mother from the world.
Then, somehow, fate had led her to the fort.
With a sigh, she officially gave up on her hair and braided it back from her face. Resigned, she went down to the lobby to wait for Bill.
She was just about to enter the dining room when Ken was carried in, bruised and battered, Lenore trailing behind the stretcher. Linda and Dale followed carrying what looked like monitoring equipment from the hospital. They all looked frazzled.
“Where’s Bill?” Katarina asked as they passed her.
“Don’t know. We never saw the other team after we left the hospital with a horde of zombies on our trail,” Linda answered. Seeing Katarina’s expression, she quickly added, “But I’m sure they are okay. Bill and Jenni alone are enough to hold off a horde of those things.”
Katarina forced a smile and moved on. She headed down the hallway that would lead out to the old newspaper building and the fort’s garage.
The Reverend was busy posting the bulletin for the next church service outside the doorway to the convention room where the church was located. He immediately noticed her tense expression.
“Only one. And Ken was hurt. I’m heading out to see what’s up.”
“I’ll go check on Ken and the others,” the Reverend decided, tucking the rest of the announcements in his pocket.
Katarina could feel her heart beating harshly in her chest and she took very deep breaths to calm herself. It was too soon to think the worst quite yet. Things did go wrong on runs and sometimes teams were delayed.
She had been on plenty of outings where her team had to take another route home or had to fight its way to safety. Jenni, Bill, Felix and Roger were tough. She had to remember that and have faith in them.
Nerit, Travis and Ed were standing near the moving truck when she walked into the gated entry. They both looked toward her, their expressions grim.
“Where are the others?” Katarina asked as she joined them. “Have we heard?”
“We don’t know. We can’t raise them on the CB,” Nerit answered.
“The other team reported that a horde of zombies was in the hospital behind secured doors. They broke out and attacked the teams.” Travis took a deep breath, obviously trying to steady his nerves. “Lenore said it got bad really fast.”
Katarina hesitated, then said, “I’ll take a crew to go get them. They may be delayed out on the road and need backup.”
“The airwaves are full of static. A norther is blowing in. We’ll wait until morning.” Travis’ tone was forlorn and full of regret. “We can’t chance a bad storm and losing more people.”
Katarina swallowed hard. “What if they need help? Need back up?”
Travis folded his arms over his chest, lowering his head slightly. He was obviously torn over the matter and finally shook his head. “We can’t risk it.”
“Everyone heading out knew there was a chance they weren’t coming back,” Ed added grimly. “That’s why I didn’t volunteer. I got my boys to think about. I didn’t feel like a suicide run. The teams knew that they may not come back. No use risking other people to get them back when the conditions ain’t good.”
The old man shrugged. “So what if it is?”
“Chances are, they are fine,” Nerit said with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
Katarina knew Nerit was only trying to calm her down and give her hope.
But Katarina didn’t feel calm or hopeful. “I’ll go alone. I know the roads around here well. I can handle it.”
“No,” Travis answered simply. “We can’t risk it. Weather is kicking up fierce. Lightning is flashing on the horizon. We still got those zombies on the outskirts wandering around. If something went wrong-”
“Something has already gone wrong,” Katarina reminded him. “And those are our people out there!”
“You can go out in the morning with me to look for them,” Nerit said in a tone that was all ice. Her fake smile was nowhere to be seen.
With a slight bob of her head, Katarina stepped back, turned, and headed back to the hotel. She struggled to breathe and regain her composure.
Of course it had been too good to be true...
Straightening her shoulders, she walked back into the hotel. She’d head out with the crew in the morning. She wanted to know what had happened. But then again, she suspected she already knew the fate of Bill and the others. Her Mom was right. Happiness was not her lot in life. She had been born for hard work and sacrifice.
Bill would not be coming back to her. Their date would never happen.
Good things never happened to those who did what had to be done.
First Lieutenant, Kevin Reynolds, gazed solemnly at the Major General, Senator Paige Brightman and Chief of Police, Bruce Kiel.
The Senator looked unimpressed, her pinched face looking even more pinched. For the hundredth time Kevin wondered how she got her pale blond hair so poofy. “I can’t believe they’re not some lunatic cult or a militia. They’re too well organized for ordinary people. Seriously, are ordinary hicks capable of this?”
“Ordinary people are capable of great things,” Bruce said softly. “And if this is my daughter in this picture, I know she wouldn’t be with a cult or a militia.”
“Maybe she doesn’t have a choice. Did you think of that, Chief?” The Senator raised an eyebrow and crossed her legs. “We’ve dealt with wellorganized crazies before. Anyone remember Waco or Eldorado? Those cultists had nice little compounds a lot like this one. How do we know that most of the people in this fort aren’t being held hostage waiting for us to rescue them?”
“Bill is very adamant that they are just ordinary people trying to survive,”
“What if he is one of the cult leaders?” The Senator tapped her nail on the photo. “They are well-armed.”
“Well, the dead are trying to eat the living,” Bruce pointed out.
“If you are planning to take control of the fort, I suggest that we do our best to avoid any sort of armed confrontation. We are in Texas. We are dealing with Texans. They aren’t going to take kindly to someone from the outside trying to take over.” Kevin sat back in his chair, looking grim.