The message had been simple: “Going to the Fort.” The map had been a little confusing, but Rune already knew where the fort was located. He had the misfortune of meeting up with some bandits that had designs on a fortified construction site down in Ashley Oaks a few months back.
Hopefully, the fort was still standing.
Rune never stayed long in any of the survivor encampments he had come across. He didn’t like trusting his safety to others. Most of the time, the survivors had very little food or weapons and were just holding tight waiting for rescue. They were damn fools and they didn’t like it when he told them that. People had a tough time figuring out that no one was coming to save them. They were on their own and the longer they waited, the more vulnerable they became to the undead hordes.
In a field next to the winding road, a herd of cows slowly sauntered toward shelter as the wind grew colder. It smelled like an ice storm, and Rune hoped to God in Heaven the fort was still alive and that he’d be able to grab a cot for the night.
The Harley roared around a long curve, and Rune quickly braked as a bunch of vehicles parked on the road came into view. Sliding his Glock out of its holster, he wove through the tangle of big vehicles. As the bike came out the other side, he saw a group of people milling around among the remains of some pretty rancid zombies.
A young man with blond hair and a worried expression looked toward him, surprise filling his features. “Hey, you!”
Ahead of him was a van covered in zombie guts and blood. A few people were on top of it, moving to get down, while others were reaching up to help.
“Hey! You! Slow down! Who are you?” the young man persisted, jogging to keep up.
To everyone’s surprise, a young woman suddenly hurled a little girl across the road just in front of Rune’s bike. He skidded to a stop, one foot planted firmly on the bloodied asphalt.
The child jumped to its feet, whirled around, and let out the terrifying screech of the walking dead. The little girl hurtled across the road straight for the startled humans, all of them raising their weapons. Rune was faster and his Glock barked. The bullet slammed into the side of the kid’s head, blowing a pretty good size hole out the other side. The little zombie crashed to the ground.
As the gunshot echoed away into the distance, the surviving humans all stared down at the small, sad figure. One by one, their gazes shifted toward him.
“Name is Rune. Just passing through,” he said. The battle appeared to be over, but he was not sticking around for any grand finale.
“Good to see you, you sonofabitch,” a gruff, familiar voice called out.
His gaze was drawn to the top of the van where an older woman with waist length hair dressed in a gypsy skirt and flowing blouse was being helped down by none other than his buddy, Dale.
“I’ll be damned,” Rune exclaimed. “What the hell happened at the rescue center?”
“Got overrun when some people decided to try to get supplies from the grocery store. They brought a whole mess of them down on us. The doors didn’t hold,” Dale answered. He acknowledged Rune with a short nod of his head, then helped the Indian couple down.
“Okay, people. Let’s get off this road and to the fort!” an older, grizzled man called out. “We’ll check you for bites and if you’re clean, you can come to the fort to stay.”
“That was our destination before it all went to hell,” Dale answered grimly.
“Let’s move. The longer we stay here, the more likely we’ll get more of the damn zombies on our asses. C’mon! Let’s go.”
The pretty woman with the black hair was standing nearby, her head down. She was staring at the little girl she had hurled away to save herself.
Around him, people began talking again, hustling the newcomers from the van toward the vehicles rumbling behind the bike. The Indian woman was howling in agony as she was led away by a woman with red hair. Her husband looked stricken, but was mute as he carried the other small child with him. Rune wanted to feel for them, but he had seen too much to indulge in compassion. It was a fucked up world and fucked up things happened in it.
The witchy older woman that Rune remembered being named Maddie Goode, covered the little girl with her shawl before an older man took her arm and escorted her toward a waiting bus.
“Good to see you, Rune,” she said as she walked past his bike.
Dale lumbered toward him, waving off the young man with blond hair that was motioning him toward the bus. “Heading to the fort?”
“Yeah. Need to find a place to crash before the ice storm hits.” He shook Dale’s hand firmly, their leather gloves creaking.
“Been a helluva day. The other van went off the road, and our driver stopped to check it out. Next thing you know, we’re overrun and the driver is dead with the keys in his damn pocket. Next time, I’m driving.”
“You’re going to the fort?” It was the gorgeous woman who spoke.
Rune felt a little flutter in his belly as he looked toward her. Her pale skin was splattered with blood, the ax in her hand still dripping. “Yeah.”
The woman slid the ax into the sheath on her back and slung herself onto the bike behind him. Her fingers gripped his leather jacket and she sat in silence. In his mirrors, he could see she was still staring at the little girl.
“See you at the fort,” Dale said, clapping him on the shoulder and winking before walking toward the anxiously waiting people from the fort.
“Hold on,” Rune said to the woman, glancing at her over his shoulder.
She didn’t answer as she kept staring at the tiny form. The young man who had yelled at Rune earlier grabbed the kid by her ankle and dragged her off the road. Finally, the woman looked away.
Rune gunned the engine and the Harley continued toward the fort. He was strangely entranced by the silent creature behind him. She was beautiful, but grim. Her eyes were large and haunted, but the set of her jaw and lips told him she was a fighter. He wanted to say something to her, but he knew that it would be empty words. She was in her own head, dealing with her own shit.
As they rode, the woman let down her long hair with one hand and closed her eyes as the wind streamed through it. The tension around her jaw alleviated a bit and Rune tried hard not to keep glancing at his mirrors to look at her. He could feel her slowly relaxing and was pretty sure the ride was doing her some good. He found riding to be spiritual and wasn’t surprised to see she did too.
The trip to Ashley Oaks was uneventful and free of anymore of the shambling dead. He was impressed by the high walls surrounding the old hotel, newspaper building and city hall. He was even more impressed with the gated entry. As he passed through the two different gates, he looked up to see sentries on the walls watching with interest.
Behind him, the pretty creature smeared in blood was silent, but slightly smiling. He could almost believe she was a ghost, but he had seen enough of those to know she was flesh and blood. It was tough being a medium when the world was full of the dead, but he was slowly getting used to it.
The final gate opened and the bike roared into a busy paddock. The woman pointed, and he directed the rumbling bike over to the empty spot.
She slid off the bike and patted his shoulder lightly.
“No prob. Name’s Rune,” he said, extending his hand to her.
“Jenni,” she answered, shaking it briefly. With her dark hair shifting around her and her face splattered in blood, she looked fierce. “Also known as La Loca.”
“Sometimes,” she answered, winking and walking off.
He watched as she headed over to where people were cleaning off spears, machetes, hatchets and other weapons. A small building had steam rising out of it, and Rune guessed that was where they were cleaning off the zombie gore. Halfway there, Jenni leaped onto the back of a tall, lean Hispanic cowboy. With a grin, the cowboy carried her over to the rest of the returning team.
Rune sighed. Of course a fine woman like that was taken.
“Okay. Who the hell are you? And what’s in the bag?” It was the old codger with the grizzled face.
“Rune.” He opened the bag to show the old guy the grenades. “And a whole lot of hurt.”
The man chuckled. “Name’s Ed. Welcome to the fort.”
“Just staying until the storm blows over. Then I gotta move on.” Rune shifted the bag.
“Gotta keep moving,” Rune answered. He could see the ghosts around him, faint shimmering things. “Gotta keep moving ahead of the dead.”
“There ain’t no rest for the wicked, man,” Rune joked. Or mediums, he thought. Ghosts were everywhere, just like zombies.
“You can’t escape the dead in this world,” Ed finally said. “You’re welcome to stay if you like.”
“Thanks, man. I’ll think about it.” Rune shifted his bag of grenades.