“I’m not much of a speaker, so I have no idea what to say except y’all are my family. I’m glad to know ya and I’m glad to stand with you today. And now a word from the Reverend.”

Katie pulled on her gloves and smiled as she listened to her husband’s words echoing around her. Looking up, she could see over the wide expanse in front of the hotel. The smell of decay was now floating on the wind and she pulled her kerchief over her nose. She could see the dark wave of the undead in the distance just beyond the fire line. It was such a beautiful day the sight of the zombies was like a sacrilege against nature.

With a deep breath, she began to load up the giant crossbow.

There was the sound of the microphone being jostled as it was handed off and Katarina smiled slightly. She was perched on one of the highest points of the fort. Her sniper rifle rested comfortably in her arms as she tilted her head and closed one eye. Abruptly the undead filled her vision and she drew in a deep breath. The first zombie to swim into view was vile beyond belief. A large woman, half eaten, her womb torn open to reveal the fetus inside, its small limbs moving, came into sharp view. Katarina closed her eyes, steadied herself, then reopened her eyes and fired. The dead mother jerked once, then stumbled on, oblivious that the tiny form inside of her had stopped moving.

“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it,”

the Reverend’s voice boomed with smoothness and gentleness that Travis’ did not have. It was like balm on the fevered minds of the inhabitants in the fort.

Kevin looked down at the map held under heavy plastic on the table before him and took a deep breath. Nerit stood next to him, her face calm as she gazed out toward the oncoming horde.

“Difficult words to embrace on a day such as this, but we must do just that. For this is the day the Lord has made for us to fight for our lives and the lives of those we love. This is our home, our fort, our safe haven. It has been called many things: the Fort, Eden, Sparta and a slew of other names. But it remains simply one thing to all of us: home. Our home. And, now, we face our greatest challenge as a family.”

Kevin looked over at Nerit and she smiled slightly at him. He moved several red markers along the map as another explosion by Rune’s grenades boomed in the distance.

“We have lost many friends, many family members, during this long plague of the dead. We have seen many atrocities at the hands of these creatures. Our beloved have fallen to their ranks and in some cases, joined their ranks.”

Margie leaned against her new grandmother listening to the Reverend’s voice as she played idly with the dry tangled hair of her doll. Her brother and sister weren’t paying attention, but she understood the Reverend’s words. She thought of her old Mommy and Daddy and of the nice lady with the black hair who had saved them. Kissing her doll, she pulled it close to her and hugged it like her grandmother was hugging her.

“But we must resolve ourselves to be strong. To stand firm. To not waver in the face of evil. It may wear the face of humanity, but it is corruption.

We must remember this. They were once alive. They were us. But now, they are the undead. The enemy of life. Be strong and know that the battle you fight today is just and good in the sight of God.”

Linda pulled back on the lever of the catapult she was manning and it groaned as it prepared to fire its heavy junkyard load. Her expression was full of rage and determination as she watched the zombies stumbling after Rune’s motorcycle in the distance just beyond the high wall made of the town’s ruins.

“Today we fight for our lives. We fight for the lives of our family and friends. We fight for our future. We fight for life itself. And it is a good and right thing.”

* * * * * Rune grinned as he brought the motorcycle to an abrupt halt. The zombies were stumbling along after him, moaning loudly, their stench overwhelming as they drew close. He was satisfied that he had drawn so many after his bike. In fact, it looked like most of the horde coming up the hill had altered direction to skim along the outer wall in the pursuit of him. The big bike rumbled between his legs as he drew another grenade and whistled loudly at the zombies.

Aggravated by the nearness of him, the zombies thrust out their decayed hands and let out moans of desperate hunger.

“Yep, damn good day to die,” he said with a grin, and lobbed another grenade into the horde.

He gunned the bike and rode off in front of the mob. The grenade went off with a resounding explosion and peppered him with body parts.

Grinning, he lured the zombies on.

* * * * * “Damn gremlins,” Calhoun muttered as he fumbled with the wires.

Jason glanced back over his shoulder to see most of the zombies were stumbling past the opening a couple of hundred yards behind them. The dead didn’t seem to notice them with all the noise Rune was making with the grenades.

“The gremlins probably took off when they saw Jack,” Jason said, trying to calm Calhoun. He needed the old man’s mind working on a solution, not freaking out over invisible opponents.

Jack barely glanced at Jason when he heard his name. He was poised to attack, his body rigid, his eyes narrowed at the undead. The boy had told him not to do anything and he was obeying for now. But if those smelly things came toward them, he was going to rip them to pieces.

“Yeah, gremlins hate dogs,” Calhoun conceded. “Good old Jack here probably got them running for the hills.”

“Yep,” Jason assured the old guy and wondered if Calhoun even noticed the zombies. Nervously, he looked back toward the undead filing past the fire line. They were still unnoticed. Trying to concentrate, his trembling fingers moved methodically through the innards of the contraption he and Calhoun had built together.

“The clones are here,” the old man’s voice trembled.

“I know,” Jason answered and flipped through the wires and studied their connections.

Jason quickly looked over his shoulder to see one lone zombie staggering toward them. It was so badly decayed he wasn’t sure if it was a woman or a man. Jack let out a low growl and looked to Jason, awaiting orders.

“It’s still far away.” Jason returned his gaze to the contraption. “Don’t shoot it or the rest of them will come at us.”

Calhoun drew his gun anyway. “I don’t like the idea of those things having an all they can eat at the Calhoun buffet.”

Jason moved so he could keep an eye on the lone zombie moving toward them and keep working. It was clear Calhoun’s concentration was shot.

The zombie kept coming, its movements jerky and rigid. It was obviously hard for it to move.

Jason dug deeper into the box, his fingers tracing the wires carefully.

Looking up, the teenager was startled to see the progress the zombie was making. Then, abruptly, it fell backwards and lay still. Calhoun scrambled forward and looked down at the thing.

“Right through the head! DAMN! That old woman is evil!”

Realizing the snipers had taken the zombie down, Jason felt safer and kept working. He could still see the zombies staggering past the entrance in the distance. The two humans and the dog had to be obscured from view from below. They were not drawing any attention. Another explosion in the distance sounded. Jason heard a catapult creaking as it unfurled its arm and tossed a load of microwaves and TVs into the crowd of zombies passing alongside the fort.

“That’s not good,” Calhoun decided, scuttling along the ground on his hands and knees.

“They’re probably trying to keep them from getting Rune,” Jason answered.

Jason looked up once more. But this time his blood ran cold. Three zombies were running up the hill, pushing past the shambling ones and rushing straight toward them.

“Oh, shit!” Jason jumped to his feet and scrambled to get his gun out.

Calhoun took a shot and hit one of the runners in the shoulder, spinning it around. But it recovered immediately and kept rushing toward them.

Jack launched himself into the first runner and snagged its shoulder in his teeth. It went down under the momentum of the dog’s leap and struggled to get free of the growling canine. As with all other zombies, it was not interested in animals. It only wanted to break away from the dog to get to the humans.

Another runner went down under a sniper shot. Jason managed to get his gun out and aimed it at the next one coming up fast on him. He saw puffs of dirt kick up around the zombie. Whoever was shooting from the fort was not Nerit. They were missing. The zombie screeched as it barreled toward him. Calhoun took another shot and missed. Jason could see the old man stagger back as the runner Jack was battling grabbed the old man’s ankle.

Jason raised his gun and aimed at the zombie, but then it was on him. It took a swipe at his arm, its bloodied face seeming to streak toward him, and Jason ducked away. He felt the creature grip his long bangs and Jason spun around on his heels as he lost his balance. They both fell. The zombie’s howling mouth was inches from his face. Jason barely managed to get his hand under the thing’s chin and push upwards.