“Gawdammit! Why do people listen to me? I’m freaking nuts!”

“And that, sir, is why they listen to you,” Rune informed him.

Despite the slowly strengthening stench of death, Rune threw back his head and laughed, too.

* * * * * Jason made his way to the makeshift elevator and hoisted his tool bag onto his shoulder. Reggie, a big black guy, nodded to him and helped him onto the pallet platform. Reaching out, Jason took a firm grip on one of the thick cables.

Reggie signaled the crane operator and the pallet lifted with a sickening lurch and began to swing toward the edge of the wall.

With a sharp bark, Jack dodged around Reggie and leaped over the empty space between the rooftop and the pallet and landed with a sharp yelp.

Jason reached down immediately and grabbed his collar. The pallet swung sharply and Jack slid across the wood. Holding tight, Jason felt the dog’s weight shift back against him. Tucking Jack securely between his legs, Jason looked down at the startled dog.

“Damn dog. You were supposed to stay with the kids,” Jason chided him.

Jack gave him a soulful look of apology, then looked out over the wide expanse before the fort. He growled low in his throat and his ears slid back.

* * * * * Rune looked down toward the angrily muttering old man. Calhoun was in a tizzy, obviously trying to figure out what was wrong. Rune leaned over and figured the dim lights on the lid of the metal box was a bad thing.

Tilting his head, he looked out toward the gap.

“Smells worse than you now, Calhoun,” he said.

“Soap is ungodly and unnatural. It poisons you slowly,” Calhoun answered.

“Right,” Rune looked back toward the fort to see the kid running down toward him with the big ol’ German Shepherd at his side. “Here comes your help.”

Calhoun glanced up to see Jason drawing close. “Good, cause those damn gremlins screwed this up royally. Worse than when the fairies stole all the wires out of my TV.”

Jason rushed up and fell to his knees beside Calhoun. He immediately began to look through the wires as Jack stood guard beside him, growling low in his throat.

Calhoun glanced over his shoulder. Beyond the gap, just coming up over the edge of the hill, was a lone zombie. It hesitated as it saw the fuel tanks, then saw what lay beyond and let out a mournful wail. It reached out its gnarled hands and began to limp forward.

“Well, boys. Time for me go do the hero thing and probably die. But let it be known to all survivors of the fort that I went out like a warrior!” Rune grinned his toothy grin and got onto his bike.

“What are you going to do?” Jason asked, his eyes huge with fear.

Rune shifted his bag around so he could reach in and grab the grenades easily. “Not sure yet, but it’s gonna be wild.”

With that the bike lurched forward toward the wide opening.

Jack began to bark fiercely as ten more zombies crested the hill and came into view.

The lone biker rode toward the undead with a gleeful shout that sounded like, “Time to rock and roll!”

* * * * * As Rune barreled toward the zombies and Jason and Calhoun struggled to repair the detonation device, Yolanda sat nestled in the communication center listening to the various groups check in from all over the fort. She checked off the numbered groups one by one on the notepad in front of her, her full lips pursed slightly.

She knew what had happened to Peggy. She felt both very sad and very angry. Peggy had always been kind to her, but today, of all days, to leave them in the lurch pissed her off. Yolanda was supposed to be up on the wall with Lenore manning the huge crossbows, but instead she was trapped in the windowless communication center. She hated feeling disconnected from defending the fort even though she knew what she was doing was important. But dammit, she wasn’t fully trained for this.

Scratching her head with the end of her pen, she sighed and responded to the last call in. She tried not to notice her stubby fingernails painted bright red. The black women of the fort had all cut off their fingernails and braided back their hair in a big party last night. It had been a rough thing to do. It may have seemed silly to some, but it had made them feel connected to their culture and their old lives to have their fancy nails and hair. But in the last week, they had decided to braid up their hair and cut their nails for safety reasons. A few of them had caught their nails on triggers during practice and their hair could be dangerous if the zombies managed to breach the walls.

In fact, everyone was under orders to have their hair up and pinned, just in case. Though she had noticed Rune had ignored this order and had worn his hair down at breakfast.

“Yoli, gotta create a distraction,” Rune’s voice cackled. “Something went wrong with the damn fire line. Cal and the kid are working on it..”

“What you talking about?” Yolanda snapped at him. “You’re supposed to be-”

She heard him laugh, cutting her off. “Say boom, baby.”

A second later, she heard a faint boom in the distance.

Travis and the Reverend entered just as she began demanding to know what the hell was going on.

“That crazy ass long haired biker boy is off doing some stupid shit,”

The tall man’s eyebrow shot up and he glanced at the clock. “Shit! It’s time. Sorry, Reverend” he quickly apologized for the profanity.

“Rune, what the hell are you doing?” Travis asked, leaning over to talk into the microphone.

“Getting the zombies to move my way. The fire line has got probs and the kid and crazy old guy are working on it.”

In the distance there was another boom.

“Don’t worry about me. I got my bike and bag of grenades.”

Over another channel Nerit’s voice cackled to life, “Rune is making some sort of a crazy run to draw the zombies away from the fire line and Calhoun and Jason. Those explosions you hear are him lobbing grenades into the horde following him.”

“We just got the word from him,” Travis said to Nerit. “How’s he doing from what you see?”

“He’s got the first hundred or so walking straight for him and away from the opening,” Nerit answered, then laughed. “Honestly, he looks pretty happy about it.”

“We’re going to say a few words before they breach the fire line,” Travis said to Nerit. “Keep an eye on Calhoun and Jason. Pull them back in if it gets too close.”

“Yolanda, open up the speakers,” Travis instructed and ignored her sour look. He picked up the microphone and was surprised at how slick his hand was. He almost dropped the microphone. Fear was slowly unfurling deep inside of him. For so long they had all lived with low-grade paranoia and fear it had become a part of them. Now those emotions were swelling as the dead approached.

The Reverend seemed to sense what was behind his hesitation and gently patted his shoulder. “You can do this, Travis.”

Travis tried not to think of Katie up there on the wall ready to fight for their lives. He closed his eyes. Steadying his nerves with a silent prayer, he pressed the button and spoke.

“Good morning seems like the wrong thing to say,” his voice boomed over the speakers scattered over the fort. “I don’t think we’ve had a good morning for a damn long time. But…hell...good morning anyway.”

Near the gate, Juan looked up from where he was busy doing the final tests on some of the traps. He slightly smiled at Travis’ words and turned back to what he was doing. His long hair was pinned up on his head and he was wearing a cowboy hat. Nearby stood one of the bulldozers rigged up to fight the zombies. Spray painted along its side were the words “La Loca.”

“But if we have to fight for our lives, I guess we couldn’t ask for a prettier morning.”

Travis’ voice floated through the air as Lenore loaded up the giant crossbow perched high on the wall. She glanced toward the battered speaker near her and had to agree. The sky was brilliant this morning with the sun shining through beautiful white clouds sliding over the endless Texan sky.

“So this is it. What we all feared. But we can do this. We can fight and win.

No matter how afraid you are, remember that we’re in this together.”

Old Man Watson in his wheelchair watched out a window as several men loaded up a catapult on the wall beneath it. Chetan, the Indian from Austin, was helping Jimmy Ray, a good ol’ boy from East Texas and Jerome from Houston, lift the heavy pieces of junk onto the catapult. The shrapnel was going to be used against the zombies. The old man smiled with satisfaction and patted the rifle on his lap.