She looked hesitant and it made Curtis nervous. They had been fooling around for a few weeks, but she always seemed a little elusive whenever he tried to get her to commit to anything.
“Okay, well we can dance and stuff,” he said.
“Yeah. That will be fun.”
The blond soldier named Bette moved down the hall toward them. Curtis had been told by Nerit that Bette would be coming to update the communication center so they could start monitoring official channels as well. She was very pretty with her short hair and large blue-green eyes.
“Hi,” Bette said when she saw both of them.
“I’m supposed to help a Curtis,” Bette said slowly.
“That’s me,” Curtis said, drawing himself up and trying to look official.
“Great. Then I’m in the right place.”
Curtis’ eyes narrowed as the two women looked at each other in a way he wasn’t sure how to take. They seemed to share a secret, but he knew that was impossible. They couldn’t have but just met.
“See you around,” Linda said, and Curtis wasn’t sure who she meant.
Bette just smiled at Linda, then turned to him. “Let’s get started.”
* * * * * As Calhoun danced alone under the stars hours later, the fort slumbered.
The old man danced a wild jig of glee as he ignored the throbbing of his head and the pain in his side. He was jubilant and he was celebrating.
The Amazon Bitch Queen had been dethroned and the fort still stood.
It was a night to rejoice.
And so he danced….
That’s a helluva lot of zombies,” Raleigh said in an oddly terrified yet awed voice.
Beside him, the Senator frowned she set her hands on her hips.
Beyond the copse of trees, that they were hiding within, was a dry and scrubby swathe of field that led down to the strangled interstate below.
Vehicles of every size and description formed a tangled necklace of battered metal and glass. Standing among the ruins were thousands of softly moaning zombies. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the fleeing traffic of nearly every city and town along I-35 had become a buffet of fresh meat for the newly risen dead in the first days.
The large silent National Guard truck beside them was a small consolation facing such danger.
I-35 cut across Texas dividing the East from the West. It connected major and minor Texas cities together like a chain from Laredo through San Antonio, Austin, and Waco, before branching off to Fort Worth and Dallas and then continuing on up into Oklahoma. If they wanted to get to East Texas, they were going to have to find a way over the massive thoroughfare that was clogged mile after mile after mile.
“They’re just standing there,” Raleigh said, mystified by this. “Why do they just stand there?”
“They haven’t seen fresh meat yet,” Ruben, the soldier, answered him. “If they see us, they’ll be moving like ants toward a picnic.”
“We can’t get across. We need to go back,” a young black soldier His name was Lewis and he looked as terrified as the rest of them were trying hard to pretend they were not.
Ben, the soldier in charge and a native of East Texas, looked grimly determined. “I think we can barrel across and get onto the farm road.”
“I don’t see much of a weak spot,” Lewis decided.
“I got family over yonder. We’re going across,” Ben said firmly.
The Senator looked toward him. “How?” Her expression was grim, all traces of her usual false bravado erased. She was facing the reality of the situation and she didn’t like it. Her plans had seemed so easy when they had been formulating in her mind. It was a simple plan: show up at Central, present all the information on the fort, get the support of Central’s firepower and take over the fort.
“First truck will gun it and hit that point right there. Those are just small cars. We can shove through. Second truck will then follow. We can do this,” Ben declared. “We can do this.”
“They’ll follow,” Raleigh pointed out. “Which is exactly what Central doesn’t want.”
The Senator was silent, her thin lips pursed together. The collagen that once plumped her lips was long gone and they were once more a tight little line on her face. She was furious at Central for placing her in this situation. After she had informed Central that the terrorists from the fort had sabotaged the mall, she had been receiving only vague responses to her request for assistance. She had been convinced they would send air transport for her and her men once Central understood her position.
Instead, she had been told to find safe lodgings and hold tight.
There was no damn way she was just going to hold tight.
Of course none of this would have happened if Kevin hadn’t betrayed her.
Something had gone wrong with the military in the last few years.
Everyone had seen it coming. Maybe it was the endless “nation building”
in other countries with high casualty rates among the enlisted that had slowly eroded the blind allegiance soldiers once had in their superiors.
She had met with strong resistance from the soldiers in the mall over and over again when she spoke of military action against the fort. It was clear they were loathe to move against the civilians. It had infuriated her to no end. The world had been a place of chaos before all this and now it was worse. When soldiers talked back and refused orders, it only proved to her that the government should have done more to control them before the world had gone to hell.
“Let’s do it,” the Senator finally said.
“We can reach Nacogdoches by nightfall,” Ben assured her.
“Very well,” she responded, walking back to her truck. She could hear Raleigh close behind her and she could feel his fear. She could smell it.
Ben and his men climbed into their truck as she, Raleigh, and Ruben rejoined the four men that were in theirs.
There had been a few losses along the way. Though they had avoided Fort Worth, they had run into trouble in one of the small towns on its outskirts. It was sheer luck they had made it through the rabid town at all.
A few men had perished, but the Senator couldn’t remember their names.
Ben’s truck moved out of the line of trees and hit the narrow dirt road that cut through the field and led to the highway. Squeezed between Ruben, the driver, and Raleigh, the Senator gripped the dash tightly and concentrated straight ahead.
She knew Ben was half-crazed at the idea of reaching his family. She could see it in his eyes. That was why he was so perfect to lead them. He would do anything to make this happen.
The truck in front of them picked up speed and began to barrel down toward the highway, a plume of dirt spraying behind it. The zombies on the highway seemed to all turn at the same time to watch the speeding vehicle rushing toward them. Together, they began a determined march toward it. Hands outstretched, they moaned and bellowed.
“Catch up!” The Senator’s voice sounded strained. “We’re too far back!”
Ruben swore, but the truck sped up.
Raleigh looked terrified. “It’s going to push through and we’re going to get stuck in the breach. We’re not going to make it!”
Ben’s truck reached the edge of the field and roared up the short embankment. It sailed onto the shoulder of the highway so quickly, the whole truck seemed to be airborne. It hit the small cars like a torpedo and the screech of twisting metal filled the air.
No one could ever be certain what the huge truck hit, but one side of it suddenly pivoted upwards. For a moment, it kept moving forward cars being shoved away from it, then it began a horrible roll to one side.
Ruben whipped the wheel about in response to the Senator’s command and the second truck slid around on the dry grass and dirt of the field.
Zombies were flooding toward the capsized truck, but others were now moving determinedly toward the second. Gunshots could be heard going off as the moans of the zombies grew louder.
The Senator fell into Raleigh as the truck made its steep turn. Ruben managed to keep control and the vehicle roared back up the incline toward the tree line.
No one spoke for at least ten minutes as I-35 vanished from the view of the side mirrors along with the determined crowd of undead stalking after the truck.
No one had an answer.
It was inevitable that the fort would feel different after the new arrivals were settled. Suddenly there were a lot more new faces as people wandered around looking lost. Some new arrivals slept for days. Others were almost hyper-awake, afraid to go to sleep and wake up back at the mall. It wasn’t unusual to see the newcomers walking down Main Street staring in awe at the buildings. The Saturday matinee of Star Wars was greeted with emotional sobs from some of the new people in the audience.
It was easy to understand that the people from the mall had given up all hope. Only the deep desire to survive had kept them going in the difficult conditions of their former haven. Now they had a refuge that felt a lot like the old world that had seemed so distant for so long. It was amazing to be in a safe place. A place where children could ride their bikes down the street and old folks sat in the sun talking about the good ol’days.