“You do realize that just because you put a black woman and a black man in the same room, it don’t mean they’re gonna hook up right?” Lenore scowled.

Lenore just growled and stalked off.

“What got into her?” Peggy arched an eyebrow.

Stacey shrugged and updated her ledger again. “We’re getting low on sweet peas.”

“We’re getting low on everything. Hopefully, all this damn shopping in town will help.” Peggy finished her calendar and circled the present date.

“It’s been a year. Today.” Peggy laid a trembling hand over her heart.

“It’s been a year ago today since it all went down into zombie hell.”

“Should we tell people?” Stacey’s face had drained of blood beneath her ever present tan.

“I don’t know. Would it do any good?” Peggy looked down at the calendar again. “It seems so much longer.”

“It’s Spring, too.” Stacey sat back in her chair, her fingers playing with the tip of her ponytail.

“A year.” Peggy thought of all that had happened and was amazed. “A year.”

The house was at least seventy years old. The paint was peeling off the front porch and the screen door hung limply from the one hinge keeping it in place. Spring had brought fresh blooms to the plants nestled in pots in the window boxes and along the front path. Fresh green blades of grass were pressing up through the cracks in the walk up to the house.

Heavy boots moved slowly and almost silently up the sidewalk. Six figures garbed in camouflage headed toward the house. Each soldier moved with agility that comes with endless hours of training and experience. All of them wore heavy gloves, helmets and imposing gas masks. Speaking only with hand signals, they moved smoothly up to the front door.

Two soldiers peered in through the front windows then signaled to the leader. He nodded and made a motion. Another soldier immediately kicked in the front door.

They flowed into the house, moving swiftly, their weapons held ready.

The living room was devoid of life. A dog lay near the front door. It was emaciated and long dead. It had never made it out of the house. Moving on, they cleared the dining room then a kitchen. Every door was opened, with soldiers at the ready.

Finally, they began down the narrow hallway to the bedrooms. The leader motioned to everyone to be as silent as possible. The first bedroom door opened on a neat room with everything in its place. The closet door was opened, the bed checked under, but nothing stirred. The next room was more chaotic and there were signs of a struggle. But again, nothing lurched out of the shadows.

The next room was also a bedroom and a corpse lay near the door. Its head was bashed in and a heavy lamp lay nearby, the base of it caked with dried blood. Again, the room was quickly checked and then one last door remained.

One soldier leaned over and gently turned the knob. The door swung open and revealed a narrow little bathroom. A woman stood in the shower. She growled and lunged forward, but one hand was tied firmly to the shower head by a towel and she struggled to get free. Either she had tied herself to the shower before she died or someone else had done it. Snapping her teeth at them, she again lunged forward, but only managed to trip and slide downward. Trying to get up, she pulled hard on her restrained arm.

Bones cracked and ligaments snapped and it was clear she would pull free of her arm to get to them.

One soldier moved forward and shot her in the head.

It was over.

“It’s clear. Get the shoppers in here,” Kevin’s voice said from within one of the gas masks.

* * * * * The door of the moving truck slid up and a soldier motioned to the men and women huddled inside.

Pulling off her mask, Bette said, “The house is clear and the perimeter is secure. Get in and get out as fast as possible.”

The Shoppers began to jump down, carrying boxes and storage bins. They hurried into the house as soldiers stood on watch, weapons at the ready.

The Shoppers would clear the house of all useful items then return to the truck. It was a dangerous job, but they were getting better at getting in and out before the undead population turned out in force.

Linda jumped down last and squeezed Bette’s shoulder. “I get scared every time you go in.”

“I worry about you, too,” Bette said with a shy grin. “Now, hurry. Let’s get this shopping done so we can go home.”

“It’s a date,” Linda said with a wink, then hurried away with her basket in her hand.

Nearby, a stumbling zombie was taken down with a single shot to the head.

3. Out With The Old

The first bulldozer tore into the old house with frightening ease. The old structure quivered then began to slide off its foundation, folding in on itself in a splintering splendor. From high above, Nerit watched from the Eagle’s Nest. It was actually a suite in the hotel set aside for overseeing the demolition of the rest of the town. Someone had named it the Eagle’s Nest and it had stuck.

Standing on the long balcony, she watched through binoculars as bulldozers destroyed the block designated for demolition this morning.

The Shoppers had come and gone, taking all that was left of use in the houses. The structure’s usefulness in this new world was over and would be destroyed.

There had been relatively low appearances of zombies. Considering all that had occurred since the first day, it was pretty much safe to speculate that most of the town’s resident zombies were now dead. There had been a danger of zombies still trapped in the houses, but those had also been few and far between. Broken windows and splintered doors told of their escapes.

The residents of the fort had always known the town would be destroyed at some point. It had been inevitable. Now that the winter was becoming a fading memory and their stores were depleted by the influx of newcomers, tempers were flaring more often now.

Personal relationships were never easy and the honeymoon was over. The greatest deterrent to anyone trying to cause drama was the thought of ending up outside the walls. After the exile of Shane and Philip and their fate and the fiasco with Blanche, people kept things as civil as possible. It wasn’t easy with a diverse group from just about every background.

The small group of Baptists were not pleased with certain developments in the fort. The special nights of dancing and drinking were heavily protested. The Reverend had tried to calm them, but they had turned on him for siding with the “heathens.” Mary, the leader of the Baptist Coalition, petitioned for a room to be set aside for a new Baptist church.

This has been granted and now there were two churches running in the fort.

Nerit was disappointed, but she did not attend either one of the services so it was really not her concern.

One of the smallest groups in the fort was the Hindu population. They were industrious, but often set apart. Nerit knew they were struggling to fit in. One of the older Indian women had cried when the Shoppers returned with bags of saris and cholis. It had been hard for her to try to adapt to wearing Western clothing.

Despite the growth of the fort population, things were running more smoothly. New extensions were being built as were more defensive traps.

Maybe it was the beauty of dawning spring, but people seemed less restless than they had during winter and more willing to help out.

What had brought on the need for the demolition of the town was the foray to the National Guard in a town 120 miles away. It had been used as a rescue station until it had been overrun. Like many rescue stations, it had tried to help those who were mauled or bitten. Of course, this led to rapid infection within the compound. It had been overrun within hours.

Two of the helicopters were from that base.

The soldiers had been relieved to move into the roles of protectors and not prison guards at the fort. They helped train their civilian counterparts under the watchful eye of Nerit, creating an even more effective force.

Like Kevin, they were all smitten with Nerit. One of the younger men called her the hottest old lady ever when she showed off her sniping skills.

But her knowledge went only so far and they were able to go beyond that point and continue the training of the civilian volunteers. One of the first things that was decided was that the civilians needed more protection when they ventured out of the fort. This resulted in a flyover of the National Guard Base. Supplies were needed and it was decided to risk it.

To Greta’s surprise, not one creature was moving in the base when her helicopter flew over. There was no sign of any zombies inside or around the surrounding area. After several more recon flights, it was decided that the military would go in. It was one of the most terrifying moments in the fort history. But all the soldiers had returned with two helicopters full of additional equipment and weapons. They had found a few zombies inside the buildings, but they were slow and easily put down. The massive crowds of zombies they anticipated were not found.