Her dinner of rosemary chicken was just about done and she inhaled the rich fragrance. Shooting that little shit’s head off had been fun, but eating it would be so much better. There was quite a few wild chickens now and she didn’t think she’d be starving any time soon. Pouring herself a glass of wine, she leaned against the counter and watched the decaying remains of what looked like a Mexican field worker bang on the kitchen window. She knew there was no way he was getting in, so she lifted her glass and toasted him.

Stupid spics. Even dead they were annoying.

For a moment she missed Raleigh chiding her for her “bias.” Well, he was gone, that little annoying faggot, and she was still here.

Now that a few days had passed and she was feeling more sure of herself, her thoughts were once more turning to the fort. Slowly, she was making plans. Plans that would restore her to where she needed to be.

Smiling, she turned her back on the moaning zombie and sipped her wine.

4. The March of the Dead

Rune slept in the hunter blind he had discovered off a back road. His parked bike was right next to the trap door and his hand grenades were in the bag next to him. The ramshackle wood blind was sturdy enough for his temporary needs, but the canvas roof was torn and not much protection from the wind and light rain. He was huddled up against the wall, snoring lightly when he was awakened by a simple touch on his knee.

Waking up with a start, he drew his Glock and aimed it at the figure kneeling next to him. The trap door was still shut and how the stranger next to him had entered the blind was a mystery.

There was no zombie moan in response. The dark figure didn’t even move.

With his other hand, he lifted his Maglite flashlight and flicked it on.

A pretty face with huge dark eyes was illuminated by the harsh white light.

Rune lowered his gun slowly, his hand beginning to tremble. He swallowed hard, then said, “Sorry.”

She rolled her shoulders under her red sweater. Her dark hair framed her face. “I’m okay with it.”

“Hell, yeah! I went out in style! I saved a bunch of people I love. It was good. I’m proud of how I went out!” Jenni grinned with satisfaction.

“Good for you. You went out a warrior. Good for you,” Rune commended her proudly. It was a damn shame she had crossed over, but he has always thought she was something special.

He began to reholster his Glock, but she held out her hand, her smile fading.

“Don’t. You need that. In fact, you need to get moving,” Jenni urged him.

“They’re coming out of the east. They started walking this way a few weeks ago. They’ve grown in number. You have to warn the fort.”

“You need to go now.” Jenni was beginning to blur around the edges.

Rune fought to keep his teeth from chattering as the air around him grew colder. That she had appeared so realistically was impressive, but she was drawing all the energy from the air around him.

Jenni didn’t even answer. She was simply gone.

Whipping the trap door open, Rune dropped his motorcycle bags down onto the ground next the bike. It looked clear under the blind. Heaving his bag of grenades onto his shoulder, he swung his legs down over the ladder.

A gray, badly chewed hand reached out to grip his boot. A badly mutilated head missing large portions of its scalp and hair, drew close to his ankle, the rancid mouth of the zombie opening wide. Rune shot it and it fell away.

He kept his gun securely in one hand and dropped to the ground. He swung around in a circle and didn’t see anymore dead things near him.

Working quickly, he secured the motorcycle bags onto the bike. A few figures were struggling out of the trees off to his right. They moved slowly, but when they saw him their moans grew louder. The answering moans of what sounded like thousands of zombies made Runes’ bowels heave.

Swinging his leg over his bike, he quickly gunned the engine. He didn’t want to do it, but he turned on the headlight anyway. The bright light washed over the countless zombies filling hillside and valley.

Pulling around, Rune raced the bike up the path, away from the shambling dead. His heart was beating fast in his chest and the Glock felt slippery in his moist hand. A few zombies were moving through the brush and reached out for him as he zoomed by. None were close enough to snag him, but their stench was rancid.

The night was full of the moans of the dead and Rune prayed hard as he made his way up the dirt path. He couldn’t go as fast as he liked and the path was nearly overgrown in a few sections.

He was beginning to fear he was lost when he saw Jenni standing near the path. The light sluiced right through her as she urgently pointed he should swerve to his left. It was not the way from which he had originally come from, but he obeyed. The new path led him up a hill away and was not easy going. Another rider may not have been able to traverse the terrain, but he managed to reach the top, breaking through a line of trees around a stately old house.

Looking behind him, the moonlight illuminated the countless zombies filling the world below. His original path would have led him straight into them. Jenni had saved him.

Yanking on his gloves and helmet, he looked around and saw a long drive leading down to a country road. It was clear of the undead.

Feeling like Paul Revere, he gunned the engine and roared off toward the fort. Too bad he wasn’t wasn’t going to get to deliver the same message.

Instead, he was going to have to tell them the zombies were coming.

5. The Long March Into The West For weeks the undead had been making a long trek toward the west of Texas.

It had all begun when a handful of zombies ignored the unexpected feast in a military truck trying to break through I-35 and wandered after an escaping truck lumbering up a hill. The fifteen zombies had walked determinedly after the truck, stumbling and struggling over miles of fields and roads.

The original fifteen swelled in number as they walked through the south side of Fort Worth, then dead towns and farms. Some were caught in fences and languished there until the crows plucked out their eyes and vultures ate their flesh. Others toppled off overpasses onto the streets below, their heads cracking open and rendering them finally, truly dead.

A tornado blew through their ranks one dark stormy night, sucking a large chunk of their numbers into the air and pulling them apart. In the aftermath, bits of the undead littered a swath of countryside a mile long.

Months of rot, decay and exposure had slowed the undead down.

Sometimes they would find the living and bombard their havens until they either broke in or moved on.

Slowly, resolutely, the undead wandered into the west toward the fort.

Rune was impressed by the changes in the fort as he drove up the country road. It looked more like a fort than ever before.

They would need them.

A lot of the outskirts of the town had been razzed to the ground. The debris was gone and Rune bet the people in the fort were using it as building supplies or weapons. The road he traveled on had new roadsigns. They were clear directions on how to safely approach the fort.

Rune noted some nasty looking traps along the way. The zombies couldn’t read or think, so he could see how the traps could be very effective.

When he finally reached the gated entrance, he was immediately let in by the guards who recognized him. He was exhausted and hungry, but he needed to let the fort leaders know what was going on. Ken and Lenore were the ones who began to check him out for bites and it was good to see familiar faces.

“Can you let the Big Boss and Nerit know I need to speak to them right away?” Rune asked Lenore.

“Sure thing,” she answered and pulled out her walkie-talkie.

“Is Dale still around? And Maddie?”

“Yeah, they’re still here,” Ken answered, his smile brightening at the mention of Dale. “It’s been kinda rough since you left. A lot of people died. But a lot of people also came to join us.”

“Fort grew in other ways, too.” Rune motioned with his head toward an outgoing helicopter.

“Go on in, Rune. They’ll meet you in Travis’ office,” Lenore instructed.

Despite all the changes to the fort, Rune found his way back into the old familiar territory of the hotel. There were definitely new people around and when Maddie spotted him, he got an enormous hug. Politely disengaging from her, he hurried past Peggy and Eric discussing something about the front doors. Bill and Curtis greeted him as they exited the communication center and Dale gave him thumbs up from where he was playing with some little kids.

It was strange to be among the living after being around the dead for so long. But what was even stranger was the disconcerting lack of ghosts.