It started in the summer when the heat rose up off the pavement in hazy waves of steam. The air was filled with the sound of children’s laughter and the sweet scent of barbecue on the grill. Time seemed to pass slower because the days were long and the runs were short. The club had more than two hundred members at the time, and life was good. No one expected the horror that hovered on the horizon. The first reports blasted across the country and were met with disdain and disbelief. Summer was supposed to be filled with laughter and redneck slip ‘n slides, not death and destruction.
Infection, that’s what they’d called it in the early days. It was a word used to describe the horror that caused friends to murder friends and strangers to become families. Those were the days when everyone thought there would eventually be a cure, but that was only a pipe dream. It couldn’t be stopped and none of the experts expected the infection to get out of hand. They didn’t expect it to morph and travel so easily from area to area, they thought they could contain it, but they were wrong.
Now it was a game of survival and the Crimson Blades MC had always been good at surviving, even when shit hit the fan and the world went to hell.
He’d lost count of the number of times that he’d wished they could go back to those long summer days when the world was normal. He would have laughed at anyone who told him he’d miss dealing with club rivalry bullshit or getting harassed by the cops. After two years of living in the shit storm he dealt with on a daily basis, looking back he could definitely say those days seemed idyllic and easy. How had they gone from riding hard and playing even harder, to barely surviving?
Jebidah “Jeb” Blackwell didn’t know, but he wanted things to go back to the way they’d been before the infected had started popping up all over the country. As his eyes scanned the sky above him, he let out a long sigh as he leaned back into the support behind him. The porch creaked under his feet and he jerked while glancing around his immediate vicinity with his hand resting on his gun. Realizing it was just the wood settling, he let out a sigh and relaxed. He still couldn’t believe that this was his life now. When the first reports started playing on the radio, he’d ignored them. It had seemed like bullshit when they’d talked about people going crazy and attacking each other in the streets.
He wasn’t the only one, the whole fucking club had ignored those reports. What did they care, as long as it wasn’t affecting their family, or their way of life. Well, Scoot, their very own conspiracy theorist, had paid attention to those stories. Of course, most of the club had thought he was nuts—running around, yelling about preparing for the zombie apocalypse. Nobody had listened, they’d just laughed and teased him about taking his anti-psychotics and went right on living life just like they always had. Jeb glanced over to the wall—made from steel sheets and reinforced with heavy struts—that enclosed the clubhouse and surrounding houses. That wall was thanks to Scoot, and every man in the club was now grateful that he’d been a crazy old coot who’d started collecting the sheets of fifteen-foot metal by liberating them from a construction site about ten miles from the clubhouse just days after those first reports.
Jeb rubbed a hand over his neatly trimmed beard, letting out a groan as he shifted, still thinking of the past. One night after a run, he’d turned the TV on to find an emergency broadcast on every station, even the ones that weren’t typically stations for that type of story. Hell, even the sci-fi channel had the broadcast on. It had been eerie and a little disturbing seeing all those stations playing the same thing on a loop. He’d thought that maybe it was some prank one of the boys played on him so he’d walked over to Hobbs place to bitch at him because he was the one most likely behind that shit, being as Hobbs was the resident computer expert.
Jeb had found sixteen of his brothers camped out in Hobbs living room watching the same broadcast with varying degrees of alarm on their faces. That was a freaky fucking sight, because fear was not a part of a bikers’ vocabulary. Riding with people allowed you to get to know them, and he’d known that shit was real the moment he’d stepped into Hobbs place because of the expressions on their ugly mugs. Fuck, that night seemed like a lifetime ago. Watching that widescreen TV with seventeen bikers who were all shitting their pants because they couldn’t figure out what the fuck to do with the information they were watching.
Jeb dug the pack of cigarettes out of his pants pocket. He shook one out of the pack, realizing it was the last one. Damn, he’d known that he was going to run out, but he’d hoped to make it till they went into town to scavenge. He pulled out his lighter and held it to the end of his cigarette, taking a long drag. He flicked his lighter closed and shoved it back into his pocket along with the empty pack. Looking up at the sky again, he noted that the stars seemed brighter tonight. Every night the sky seemed to be clearer and less polluted, with more stars coming into focus. He’d never thought that cleaner, fresher air would be something he found depressing, but it was. It must be nearing summer because it was hot out and it had been dark for at least an hour.
After taking another long puff, Jeb jumped off the porch and started his nightly perimeter check. Not that he needed to check the perimeter, it was just something useless he did every night, mostly out of boredom. He realized as he walked towards the wall that he’d forgotten his radio back at his cabin. Jeb shrugged it off—he didn’t need it inside the walls anyway. He looked up nodding to Kicker, who was positioned on the wall above him, keeping an eye out for trouble. Jeb headed down the south wall checking for any weak spots by shaking the supports, not that any of the steel supports had ever moved. Twisted had been a construction worker before he was part of the club and knew what he was doing when he’d laid out the plan for the wall.
Jeb kept walking down the row checking the struts, his mind torturing him with thoughts of the night he entered Hobbs living room as shit hit the fan for the world. He’d sat there perched on the arm of the couch listening to the broadcast with ice flowing through his veins.
The man on TV, a slightly balding overweight guy wearing a lab coat, who had large bushy brows and wore a serious expression, had begun talking about what he’d called an epidemic. Baldy had explained in a monotone voice that nobody should panic about what he had to say—as if that was going to keep anyone from panicking—he then started explaining that they were close to a cure for the disease. After it was explained with a lot of medical mumbo-jumbo—Jeb hadn’t understood—Baldy had started listing off the symptoms at the onset of the infection. Going on to say that if they knew anyone with the symptoms he was describing, they should be isolated and muzzled whenever possible. Jeb could remember thinking muzzling a human was fucked up.
The list of symptoms was odd to say the least, starting with bloodshot eyes—which half the club sported daily—aggressive behavior—which described every man in the club—deadening nerves, jerky movements, greying skin, profuse sweating, jaw clenching, and his favorite—loss of senses. Baldy went on to explain that the disease was highly contagious, but that approximately seventy-five percent of the population was immune to the airborne virus, although if bitten by an infected person, the infection rate was one hundred percent.
Jeb could remember thinking what Baldy was saying was bullshit, but then the videos began playing. Videos of the infected—where they watched, as seemingly normal people transformed into crazed animals, who snapped their teeth at people and tried to attack anyone close to them. People were wearing muzzles and were tied to beds with restraints. In that same monotone voice Baldy had talked about vectors and other medical bullshit, he talked about the government researchers getting ahead of the infection and that they should have a cure before the infection could get out of hand. Jeb snorted, because that wasn’t what had happened. Fuck no, what had happened was the infection spread across the country like wildfire.
The infected wasn’t your typical Hollywood undead. They were alive, but they were so far gone they weren’t able to reason or talk. They were nothing but infected cells that burned out the human who’d been contaminated, leaving behind a mindless killing machine. It was hard to think of half dead humans who attacked anything that moved, as anything except zombies. Not that they were what Zombie films made them out to be.
They weren’t dead people with their guts hanging out, or decaying flesh that was falling off the bone. They were people with infected cells that basically changed the persons brain chemistry, making parts of their brains shut down and only re-activating the parts that made them violent and cabalistic. It somehow extended the life of the infected person, but they were just as easy to kill as any human. Gunshot to the heart or head worked every time, but if you missed, you’d better run like hell or keep shooting, because they didn’t feel pain. Only catch about killing them was if you got the blood of the infected on you, it was as dangerous as HIV had been before the world exploded. The change was sudden when infected blood got into your bloodstream and the alterations of your brain chemistry lasted only hours, instead of days like the bite did.
Jeb continued around the outside edge of the perimeter remembering his first encounter with the disease. Old man Davies, who’d been with the club for years as an accountant, was the first person he’d watched change. The transformation had been sudden and the change in the mild-mannered man’s behavior had been shocking. He’d killed Break and Happy before Jeb had put a bullet in his head. He’d stood there staring at the carnage with a sense of disbelief, not that carnage was anything new to him. He was a fucking biker after all, but somehow the shit that had gone down right in front of him felt like it should have been in a Sci-Fi flick.
Back then he’d just been a club enforcer, just another cog in the wheel. It never occurred to him that he’d one day be a leader of the club, as he’d stood there that day looking at the ripped open throats of his brothers and the friend who’d been with the club for years. He never wanted to be anything more than a cog, and yet here he was the vice president of the Crimson Blades MC. Fuck, that day seemed like a lifetime ago, but it had only been two years. Two long hellish years of fighting for survival. If only he could go back to the time before the world went to shit, he’d liked his life when it was simpler, when he wasn’t the one responsible for the safety of the club. Only when Toke died a year ago, that left the Club with a vote for vice, and he was the lucky son-of-a-bitch they elected. Fuck, it was more than he’d ever wanted. Jeb wasn’t a fucking leader, he was just a man trying to survive. He grunted as he walked around another strut, wishing he wasn’t worried about how they were going to make it through the winter.
“Hey, Jeb,” Bow called out from his place on the wall above him, interrupting his thoughts. Jeb glanced up, Bow was manning one of the eight towers they’d built to make sure all the walls were secure from the deadheads. Calling them zombies made shit seem too real, and after a while they’d started calling the infected, deadheads. Not that deadheads were the only problems they had to deal with. Hell, ninety percent of their issues came from normal people who wanted what they had and thought they could take it from them—then there were the crazies who just wanted to watch the world burn. If Jeb had learned anything about the world since it had gone to hell, it was that some people were assholes, even when the world was imploding.
“You hear anything from Scratches and Bleak’s group?”
“Nah, they radioed in a few days ago, but they were headed out too far to communicate. They should be back in a few days.” Jeb took another long drag on his cigarette before tossing it down and stomping it out.
“I was just wondering if they’d found Clair and Rhonda.” Bow muttered, staring out into the darkness.
Jeb winced, he wanted to tell the man they’d find his kid and wife alive and well, but the likelihood of that was slim to none. Bow was one of the stragglers from another club they’d found a few months ago. He’d gotten separated from his wife and daughter and had been searching for them when he’d suffered a broken leg trying to escape from some deadheads. If the club hadn’t found him, he’d likely be one of the deadheads.
“If they did, you know they’ll bring them back.” Jeb didn’t add that it was likely to be their bodies, and not living breathing humans that Scratches and Bleak would be bringing back. Bow already knew that, but he just wanted to hold out hope that it wasn’t true. He’d given a beat-up photo of his wife and kid to Scratches when he’d heard that they were heading over to Scottsbluff where they’d found him a few months ago.
“Yeah, yeah. I know.” Bow said, his voice slightly shaking, letting Jeb know he wasn’t holding out much hope that his wife and daughter were still alive, just that they weren’t roaming around eating people. That was the hard part about this disease, it wasn’t that it had stolen so many people from everyone who’d survived, it was thinking about your friends and family running around eating people that twisted your stomach into knots and it made Jeb damned glad he didn’t have any. His mother was long dead and he’d never met his father.
Jeb waved to Bow and kept walking, his mind now filled with all the deadheads he’d killed. The majority had been strangers, but some were friends. Hell, even a few of the sweetbutts that had warmed his bed on a cold night. It was a fucked-up existence they were now forced to live. Sometimes he wondered if it was even worth fighting for anymore, not that he was ready to lay down and become one of the deadheads trying to rip the last of humanity apart, but fuck, what was the point of surviving if it was only going to end with you ripping the throat out of your friends and family at some point.
Fuck, he was a little morbid tonight, maybe he just needed to get laid. With that thought in mind, he headed towards Francine’s place, with his hands in his pockets and his mind swirling around all the people he’d been forced to kill over the past few years. He was almost there when the bells began ringing through the cold silence of the night, making him spring into action as he ran towards the gates, wishing he hadn’t said fuck it, when he realized he’d left his radio on his kitchen counter an hour ago.
Running had become a way of life for anyone who’d managed to survive in this crazy new world. You either ran or you died, it was that simple. Jeb had learned those rules a long time ago, so he was breathing heavy by the time he made it to the gatehouse, but he wasn’t out of breath. Jeb snorted, apparently the end of the world was a great exercise program. He jumped up the few steps and entered the gatehouse door behind Harry and Hog.
“What’s going on?” Jeb demanded.
“It’s those stupid cult assholes again. They’re chasing Scratches and Bleak’s group, they’re about five miles out and coming in hot. Fuck, those bastards need to die already.” Viper grunted from the expensive desk chair he sat in. Jeb could still remember the night they’d been at a warehouse searching for supplies and Viper had found that chair. He’d nearly shit his pants in glee because it was some kind of butt-cradling, five-thousand-dollar office chair that he’d insisted they bring back with them. Jeb shook his head, hell he supposed that the end of civilization needed to have one or two perks.
The cult Viper was referring to called themselves, “The Grinders”. They were a group of men and woman who thought this disease was god’s way of killing off the unworthy. They had some crazy ideas that they were the pure one’s, and anyone else was meant to die. They shoved people into large pits filled with deadheads and laughed as they were ripped apart. It was sickening to think how insane those fuckers were. The club had been trying to kill the cult off for the last year, but they always seemed to slip away without too many losses, and it was frustrating the hell out of the whole club.
“Fuck, we need to kill those sons-of-bitches.” Jeb grunted to the other nine men who were inside the clubhouse. “How many bikes do we have charged and ready to go?” Jeb asked Gravel.
Gravel was their mechanic and he was in charge of making sure the bikes and other vehicles were gassed up and ready to go. Most of the bikes and cages had been modified to take homemade fuel after gas had started to become scarce. Thank fuck they’d found Trey a few years ago and he’d come up with a shit ton of ideas and gadgets, everything from making their own gas, to filtering rain water, the man was a damned genius.
“Not enough if you guys are out there very long. Ten bikes are nearing full, but most of the others are going to take at least an hour to get going. It’s not like pumping gas into a normal tank man, you know that. We only have thirteen that take regular fuel now and we’re running low on that again too,” Gravel muttered, his face grim.
“I hate these assholes, they always ruin our day. You know, we were always a bunch of self-centered dicks before the deadheads showed up, but at least we don’t want to murder what’s left of humanity.” Viper muttered, earning nods and head shakes from the men.
“Alright, no time to debate this bullshit, let’s get our asses in gear. Jeb what do you think? How do we take these dumb fucks out?” Grit questioned.
“I’ll take Harry and Len with me to get a look at what we’re dealing with, and the rest of you set up about half a mile from the start of the blocking along the highway. Don’t forget that these Grinder idiots aren’t the only thing we have to deal with, so watch each other’s backs. We don’t want any deadheads making this harder than it has to be by biting one of us. Now let’s get a move on it.” Jeb watched as the men piled out of the gatehouse heading towards the garage where the bikes and the trucks were stored before turning to Grit.
“Grit, you know you can’t come with us. We need one of us here to keep an eye on things,” Jeb commanded.
“I know, but it still ticks me off that I have to stay here while you go off and risk your hide.” Grit muttered, looking grim.
After a vote six months ago, either him or Grit—the club’s president—had to remain safely behind the walls so they weren’t left without a chain of command. They’d learned the hard way that being left without any leadership caused mayhem in the ranks. Grit understood why it was necessary, but he hated sending them out on dangerous runs without him. He’d offered to be the one who stayed behind most of the time, mainly because he knew Jeb well enough to know that being cooped up too long was a bad idea for him.
Jeb had some issues with walls after his stint in prison a few years before the deadheads made their appearance. It was hard for any man to feel pinned in or locked up, but for men like them it was even harder. Bikers had the open road in their blood and not being able to ride, even if you did have to fight off deadheads, was as close to hell as any biker could get. Jeb knew that Grit felt that pain more than he did because of his forced confinement and it made him feel a little guilty. He knew he should offer to stay behind more often, but at his core, he knew he was a selfish bastard. Jeb reached out and clasped Grit’s shoulder in a brotherly hug, which Grit returned before he pulled away and started out the door.
“Play it safe brother,” Grit cautioned, as Jeb let the screen door slam behind him.
Jeb followed the men into the hanger heading towards the gun room. He moved into the room where the men were already strapping on weapons. He joined them as he put on his vest, inserting two handguns into the holsters, before attaching a machete to his belt and picking up an AK-47. He grabbed a few extra clips, which he inserted into the hooks and pockets on his gear.
“Let’s get a move on it boys.” He grunted, as he headed over to his bike fully loaded. Harry and Len were already stocked up and waiting on him when he walked over.
“You think they’ll have that crazy bastard with them again?” Len asked, frowning. He pulled his cut back on before he climbed onto his bike. Jeb grunted as he opened his saddle bag making sure he still had cartridges for the flare gun, just in case they got into trouble.
“Yeah, you know that fucker just can’t stay away.” Harry grumbled, his face twisted into a frown. Jeb didn’t disagree, the man they were talking about was called, “The Shepherd”, by his crazy cult followers. He was the nastiest of the group, and they’d managed to kill half of his insane flock, but they hadn’t gotten the Shepherd, and he’d showed up a month later with new followers. Jeb hated the fact that they’d missed the bastard again the second time too. He still couldn’t figure out how the crazy son-of-a-bitch was escaping.
“Don’t know, but I hope he is because I have a bullet with that assholes name on it.” Jeb muttered, as tied a bandana around the lower half of his face and climbed on his bike. He looked around seeing that most of the men were locked and loaded. He motioned for them to get moving, kicking his own ride into gear, and headed out toward the gate with a grim determination to kill that freak and his followers this time.
Jeb, Len, and Harry headed out the gates like bats out of hell, ready to help the group Scratches and Bleak led. Jeb hoped like hell those dickheads hadn’t killed any of his friends because he’d already lost too many to count. Jeb kept an eye out for deadheads in the road as he zoomed by burnt out buildings and broken-down cars with grass growing out of them. The world was becoming one of those eerie places you used to see on horror flicks that were abandoned and overgrown. Manicured lawns became three-foot grass sprinkled with weeds, broken lawn furniture, and fallen fences. It was funny that just two years ago, the street he was currently driving down had been a ritzy middle-class suburb, and now it was a ghost town filled with monsters.
Jeb slowed down maneuvering around another car, only to swerve quickly to avoid a deadhead that tried to grab him as he went by. It was wearing a ripped and faded business suit and looked like it was nearing the end of its life cycle. He could tell because its eyes looked red—after a while deadhead’s eyes were nothing but busted blood vessels—and it had some kind of cysts or boils on its face, drooling like a dog with rabies. Jeb had slowed down enough that the things arms smacked into his side and he hissed with pain, grunting as he held the bike steady and zoomed by it. He glanced back to make sure that Harry and Len made it around ok and was glad to see they’d swung the curve a bit wider than he had and didn’t have any issues avoiding the deadhead. Satisfied that they’d made it through, he headed out to the main highway heading towards the hilltop area where they’d be able to get a good look at what they were dealing with.
Scratches and Bleak would lead them down the highway that the club had lined with cars to keep the deadheads off the road, so that if they were being chased, they weren’t also dealing with swerving to avoid deadheads—alive or dead. Of course, the alive part could be debated because they weren’t human, but he supposed they were living. The club had lined the road with the heaviest SUV’s and Semi-trailers for about ten miles. To keep anyone from slipping under the trailers to escape the long stretch of flat terrain, they’d welded panels to the sides of the trailers, as well as, filled in the gaps between trailers the same way. That way anyone following them would be forced to go the way they herded them. The idea—from some guy who’d once been a truck driver, who’d joined them about a year ago after they’d saved him and his sister. Thankfully they saved them because that had saved their asses more than once as well.
Grit—who wasn’t a fan of adding to their responsibilities by saving people—had even said that it was a good thing that Jeb and Stitch had brought him back, and from Grit that was high praises. His brother wasn’t a bleeding heart like he seemed to be, and he didn’t want to bring in any survivors they found outside the walls—Grit always said bringing people in was too risky.
Jeb couldn’t argue that point, and more than once he had to put down some idiot who tried something stupid. Jeb figured they didn’t have much choice about bringing people into their home when they had lost men just about every time they stepped foot outside of the gates. When the club was strong before the world imploded, maybe they might have been able to get away with that, but not when they were only a ragtag outfit of bikers and civilians living together just trying not to die. There wasn’t much of humanity left, and Jeb figured those that were had to stick together. Bikers for the most part were good at judging people and their intentions. One good thing about who they’d been before the fall of the world, was that they were good at handling shit. Only a dozen or so of the people they’d added to the compound over the past two years had turned out to be bad eggs.
They began pulling up to the hilltop bridge that would give him a good view down the road, so that he could see what they were dealing with before heading down to where the others were waiting on them. Jeb climbed off his bike, pulling his gun out of its’ holster, looking around at the area surrounding him checking for deadheads. Two of them were moving jerkily out of the trees a few feet away and Jeb raised the Glock. He realized as he shot the young woman—who was wearing a yellow sundress that was dirty and covered in grass stains, with a bite mark on her cheek—right between the eyes, that she’d had a broken leg. He made quick work of the second deadhead too, shooting him in the head as well, watching as the body fall with a dispassionate stare not fazed by the grimy jeans and ripped Led Zeppelin t-shirt the kid wore, or the fact that he had a bear trap clamped on his right leg.
Len and Harry climbed off their bikes taking out a few other deadhead’s who’d come up the hill running at them. Jeb turned to the road, walking to the edge with his binoculars in his hand trusting his men to take care of any deadheads in the area before they attacked him. He zoomed out seeing the riders coming towards them. He could tell that they were still about two miles out, but they were coming in fast and hard. He could just barely see the bikes and the semi that they were escorting with any supplies or people that they were bringing home, but he still couldn’t see what was chasing them.
“Jeb, shit, look out,” Harry cried.
Jeb dropped the binoculars from his face and spun to see what Harry was yelling about. He saw four deadheads coming out of the tree line fast, two of them foaming at the mouth. Yuck, that drooling shit was always fucking nasty. Jeb knew that none of them liked seeing the insane creatures they’d become if one of these things bit them. He wasn’t a fan of the spit dribbling off their rotted teeth and down their bodies because it was always disgusting—even if he did know it meant that within days the things would be dead. He shot one of the deadheads who was closest to him while he tossed the binoculars down on a patch of grass and grabbed his other gun shooting the second one while backing up quickly, trying to avoid the two still coming for him.
His foot slipped on some loose gravel, cursing as he fell backwards landing hard on his ass. Jeb shot the one in front missing anything important. Cursing, he shoved backwards trying to escape the deadhead that was only inches away from him. Close enough that the stench from his likely festering wounds and rotten teeth made him gag. He shot again hitting the fucker between the eyes groaning as it fell forward onto him, smearing god knew what all over his chest. He grunted as he shot the last of the damned things, watching it fall to the gravel road. He sat there under the nasty thing trying not to vomit from the odor pouring off the body. He glanced over to see why Harry and Len hadn’t come to his rescue.
Jeb wasn’t surprised to see them killing two more deadheads, with at least ten more at their feet, because he’d heard them shooting when he’d been fighting the four coming at him. He was just damned glad Harry had thought to check his back when he did because he’d likely have been dead if he hadn’t. Fuck, he hated these diseased mother-fuckers. Jeb shoved hard on the things shoulder trying to get it off him. It took a minute because the dead man had been rather large and he was now dead weight lying on him. Jeb managed to shove it off himself and got to his feet, wiping the goo from his hand onto his pants, hoping like hell whatever it was didn’t give him some sort of infection or turn him into a deadhead. He glanced down and let out a little growl because the nasty shit was all over his cut and his t-shirt, but his jeans were relatively clean making him realize that the goo was likely the drool the fucker had all over him. Yuck. He pulled the bandana off that he’d wrapped around his face, heading over to his bike to grab some rags from his saddle bags.
“You alright?” Len asked, watching Jeb wipe his face with the rag, removing any blood that might have splattered on his face when he’d shot the thing on top of him.
“Just a little gooey. Doesn’t look like anything got on my face, but the bandana is done for.” Jeb shrugged, tossing the bandana and rags into the little plastic bag. He kept the used rags in plastic bags after he used them until he could wash and bake them dry in the dryers they ran, to kill the virus. He pulled a bottle of alcohol from his pack and used some of it to wash his hands before he took out another bandana and put it on over his face covering his nose and mouth. They’d started doing that as soon as they’d learned that the virus spread via blood too. Jeb knew it wasn’t a full proof way to stop blood from getting into their system, but it was at least a measure they could take.
“Yeah, I noticed those second two were about to pop.” Harry muttered. “Sorry it was a late warning. We didn’t expect to find that many up here. We send the team up here to clear it once a week, shouldn’t have been this many here. I wonder where they’re coming from?”
“They’re from that little community that we traded with a month or so ago.” Len muttered. “Fuck, when are good people going to stop dying. They had a good set up on that air force base, even if the walls were made of wood. Wonder what happened?”
“How do you know that’s where they’re from?” Jeb asked, wondering how the other man could know.
“I recognized five of them, and for sure two of them had never been out of the compound because I talked to them the night we were there.” Len explained, his face grim as he shook his head and turned to scan the area again.
“Shit, well that’s another one down then. It’s the second one this month that fell. Eventually there won’t be anyone left but us and the world will be filled with these diseased bastards.” Harry muttered, and Jeb couldn’t disagree. He wasn’t even sure that they’d survive this damned thing anymore. There wasn’t a cure coming, that much was clear after two years, but he’d hoped that maybe they could hold out till they all died off, but that was likely a pipe dream.
“Let me see if I can see what Scratches and Bleak are dealing with so we can go get the men in formation to take them out. I want these cult assholes dead before the end of the day for fucks sake, and we have to get our asses moving if that’s the case.” Jeb moved over to the discarded binoculars, glad to see when he lifted them up that he hadn’t damaged them when he’d tossed them. Thankfully they were military grade and made for durability.
Lifting them to his eyes he stepped to the edge again, looking out see that during their fight, the group had gotten a lot closer. He could see that they had about five military trucks zooming up behind them. Fuck, those weren’t going to be easy to take out. He was glad that Tim was with the team he’d taken out, because the man had likely brought along some rocket launchers. He was former military and he’d brought a lot of nice toys with him and his four guys when he’d joined them. Jeb lowered the binoculars heading to his bike.
“Let’s move. We need to get down there and set up. I want men along both sides with the heavy stuff ready. We are going to be cutting this one close boys.” Jeb ordered, as he kicked his bike into gear, idling while he waited on Harry and Len to do the same.
Jeb wiped the sweat from his brow, his eyes flowing over the men who were crouched down behind the trailer with their guns ready, glancing around to be sure everyone was in position. When they’d built the blockage on the road, they’d also cut holes into the welded panels that were under the trailers for situations just like this one. He and Grit had wanted to be able to defend the compound from anyone they’d led down this highway.
Jeb looked up, Tim was perched on top of one of the trailers with the missile launcher resting on the lip of the metal shield, waiting. Jeb knew that he was chomping at the bit to shoot the heavy military trucks barreling towards them. Jeb had stationed men along both sides of the road waiting on these sons-of-bitches to get close enough to bring the fires of hell raining down on them. Satisfied everyone was ready, Jeb headed over to the ladder and climbed up to grab the other launcher, feeling a bit of glee himself. He was ready for these cult bastard’s to be taken care of. The last time they’d come across them, they’d lost four good men and he was damned tired of losing people. He moved across the top of the trailer, halting next to Tim. Jeb didn’t waste any time and took his place before lifting the second launcher to rest it on the ledge in front of him.
His gaze scanned the horizon, noting that Scratches’ group was closer. They were almost to the white line that they’d sprayed across the road so they had an idea when to launch the missiles. Once their people were over that line he knew it wouldn’t be long before the cult crossed it too and that was when they launched. The club obtained the missiles from several military bases that first year when shit hit the fan. Tim glanced at him grinning. Jeb’s eyes crinkled and despite the situation he smiled a little, because he knew using these missiles made the man giddy. Tim loved his heavy artillery and the club rarely used them because they knew that once the forty they had were gone, they weren’t going to be finding more. They knew the chances of them discovering a military mother-load that hadn’t already been raided was about as likely as finding the cure—zero percent.
Jeb focused on the task at hand, his eyes trained on the road where their people were just starting to pass over the line. The bikes crossed the white line first, closely followed by two Dodge Rams and the semi, with a couple more men on bikes pulling up the rear of the little caravan. He waited with Tim beside him ready to shoot the missiles at the assholes who were insane enough to join that stupid cult. He wasn’t concerned about killing anyone who joined the Grinder’s, because if they were in that cult they were already dead inside. He’d met men like those bastards before the fall of the world and he knew that the only good fanatic, was a dead fanatic. Jeb felt sweat trickle down the back of his neck as his finger hovered over the trigger.
“Get ready.” Jeb called out to the men who had their weapons trained on the cars, ready to take out anyone who survived the two missiles they were about to launch. He watched as the bikes zoomed around the back of the semi trying to get ahead of the group, they knew they didn’t need to protect the rear of the caravan anymore.
“Now,” Tim hissed, and shot his missile at the two heavy trucks in the front.
The hissing cry of the missile was piercing as it slid out of the cannon and zoomed toward the cars. The missile exploded in a shower of red fire, as one of the trucks went airborne flying forward, almost clipping the back of the semi they were trying to protect. Fuck that had been close, good thing the riders in the back had moved to the sides of the truck, otherwise they would have been hit. The second truck flipped on its side and was skidding to a halt in the middle of the road, forcing the other trucks to slow down. One of them tried to plow through the truck, apparently not caring about their comrades possibly being alive inside the vehicle. Not that this surprised Jeb, he knew the idiots had no respect for life, but it was always fucked up when they proved time and again, how stupid they were. Jeb hit the trigger on the launcher he held, aiming for the truck on its side, hoping to explode the oncoming trucks with the gas propellant from the one on its side.
His eyes tracked the missile as it barreled into the truck on its side, watching it explode with fire erupting again, engulfing the truck and the two it slung backwards. One slammed into the barrier so hard that the trailer they were on shook a little. Damn, that was going to be a bitch to fix once they were done killing these assholes. Jeb watched as one of the last three trucks came bursting past the military trucks despite the fire that lit the front of their vehicle. He realized that it wasn’t a military truck, but instead was some kind of moving truck. He felt a pit in his stomach because he had a really bad feeling about that truck.
Jeb glanced up demanding, “We got anymore missiles, because that truck is trouble.”
“No, we didn’t bring any more than the two. Fuck you’re right, because they’re slowing down. What the hell are they doing? Those other two have stopped completely.” Harry roared his face stern.
“Yeah, this isn’t going to go well. You think it’s a bomb of some sort?” Tim asked, his face grim.
“Don’t know.” He muttered, grabbing his radio from his belt as he barked out an order. “Bow, you guys need to pull back from the barrier.” Jeb watched as the truck stopped completely and the driver jumped out, the man head to toe in body armor.
“Shoot him. Fuck, get him down.” Jeb cried, his guts in knots because whatever that little fucker was doing wasn’t going to be good. He watched as the man ran towards the back of the truck despite the hail of bullets that were pelting his armor with little pings. Jeb jerked up a sniper, aiming at the guy’s head just as he grabbed the rope attached to the back of the truck jerking. Jeb’s bullet penetrated the visor of his helmet hitting the man in his left eye, but it was too late. The door opened as the guys body fell. For a moment nothing happened, making Jeb think that maybe the guy had needed to get inside the truck to set off whatever trap they’d had inside, but that was when the first deadhead rushed out of the truck.
“Damn, kill the deadheads and don’t worry about the other trucks until they’re dead.” Jeb barked out the order as more deadheads began to pour out of the truck. Deadheads weren’t like zombies in the movies who ran at barriers and tried to get past them. Nope, some part of the deadheads stayed awake and allowed them to open doors and climb over things, thus making them much more dangerous. After all, they weren’t the living dead. Deadheads were just animalistic and ravenous for flesh of any kind.
His men started shooting the deadheads trying to kill them all before they could scramble over the cars to attack them. Gunfire rang out as the deadheads rushed them on both sides. Jeb couldn’t believe how many of the damned things had poured out of the truck. There had to be at least two hundred of them running at them. This was a damned cluster fuck because he’d only brought about fifteen men with him. Thankfully, the riders had kept going towards the compound. He knew that some of the riders would circle back while the trucks headed home, but it wouldn’t be quick enough for them to help. Jeb started shooting with his automatic rifle, taking out large groups of them watching them fall.
“Get on the trucks.” Jeb ordered, trying to save as many of his men as he could, because this wasn’t going to be pretty. They’d taken out about thirty of them when they hit the cars scrambling over them with the men, trying desperately to control the flow and kill them before they could get close enough to bite. Jeb moved to the other end of the trailer and began shooting the ones he could see from where he was at. Harry and Tim were doing the same as his men tried to scramble up the ladders to safety. There was only one way up the trailers and that meant that they’d be able to control the flow of deadheads if they could just get all their men up here. Jeb watched as Bean ran toward the truck, climbing up the ladder. Len was on the other side of the road on that trailer, trying to help some of the guys on that side get up onto the trailers. Jeb watched as Garry, a relatively new member of their group, went down with two deadheads attacking him. He did the only humane thing he could and shot the screaming man between his eyes before he took out the deadheads feeding on him. More men clambered onto the trailer, helping to shoot the deadheads below them in an attempt to allow their friends to survive the ones chasing them. Two more of his men jumped up on an SUV on the other side trying to get away from the rabid creatures following them. They were shooting down at the ones beneath them, trying like hell to survive.
Jeb saw another man go down and several deadheads were on him, ripping into his flesh with teeth, red spraying the ground around him. He didn’t have a shot on the screaming man who abruptly stopped screaming when another deadhead dropped on his head, likely smothering the dying man’s screams. Fuck this was turning out to be a disaster, he thought as he continued to shoot the deadheads closest to his guys on the ground. Only about half of them had made it to the trailers because he’d had them spread out to give them better coverage. Even though he couldn’t have predicted the insane actions of the cult, he felt responsible for the cluster fuck they were currently in.
He knew how fucking nuts these dillholes were. Why hadn’t he thought of them doing something stupid like this? That trick with the truck was basically a version of their pits, albeit a mobile one. Jeb continued to shoot the deadheads, trying like hell to save as many of his men as he could. Several more of them had managed to scramble up the ladders to get on top of the trailers, while others hadn’t made it. By his count they’d lost four men and the two on the SUV were desperately trying to climb from one SUV to the next so that they could get to a trailer and climb on. Jeb and the other men were trying to help by shooting as many as they could to help them while still watching the ladders.
The two men finally made it to the trailer and Colt boosted Trippy up so that he could climb onto the trailer from the roof of the SUV, which was butted up against the trailer. Trippy caught the top of the trailer as he hoisted himself up onto it before gripping the barrier and reaching back down for Colt who grabbed his hand. Jeb and the boys tried like hell to shoot any deadheads near the man, but somehow one of them got a hold of Colt’s leg and almost drug both men off the trailer. Len shot the bastard and the thing let go, falling to the ground while Trippy yanked Colt up far enough to get a grip on the trailer, with Colt scrambling to get up on the trailer beside him. The two men were panting as they lay back on the hot metal roof, likely thankful to have survived this cluster fuck. Jeb realized that everyone alive was as safe as they could be until they killed all the deadheads.
“Let’s get this done so we can deal with those two trucks hanging back.” Jeb called out, seeing Len nod as he started ordering the men on his side to take up position and finish killing the deadheads. Tim started barking orders on their side while Jeb lifted the binoculars looking towards the trucks that had pulled back. He saw that crazy son-of-a-bitch standing just outside the truck with his own pair of binoculars raised. Jeb dropped the binoculars and moved to the sniper he’d discarded when the deadheads had started pouring from the trucks. Lifting it he took aim on the Grinder leader’s head, readying his shot. He was about to pull the trigger when someone yelled out.
“Shit is that Davie?”
“Fuck he’s still alive and he’s almost to the trailer, kill those deadheads around him quick.” Len yelled.
“Fuck, I can’t get a shot on the one to his left. Does anyone have a shot?” Len yelled, sounding panicked. Davie and Len were good friends and Jeb knew he should take the shot, but he swung the gun around to find Davie. When he was in his line of sight, Jeb saw the deadhead on Davie’s left. Somehow it had gotten between the two vehicles and nobody from the other side could get a shot off on him. Jeb took the shot, taking down the deadhead as Davie ran towards the trailer on Len’s side of the road. When he turned back to the cult leader he realized that the man had fled as he watched the trucks zooming away. Fuck that was really how his day was going he supposed.
He lowered the sniper and glanced around at his men who were killing the last of the deadheads around the trucks. The sound of gun fire trailed off as all the bodies hit the ground and Jeb looked at the piles of deadheads, feeling rage pool in his stomach. How was it that this cult always managed to fuck up their lives and then escape before they could kill them all? They were the Crimson Blades MC and these assholes weren’t even organized, nor were they particularly tough to kill, but they somehow never managed to wipe them out completely. It was getting damned old.
“Did you get him?” Harry asked. Jeb shook his head hearing the other man let out a harsh curse that he felt right down to his bones.
“You okay?” Tim grunted to Davie, who hadn’t really moved since he’d made it to up the ladder. Davie looked up from where he was sitting and his eyes were tearing up as he pulled the sleeve up to reveal a crescent shaped bite mark on his arm.
“One of them got me before Jeb shot him.” He replied, his arm shaking as he held it out for them to see. Tim’s face fell and his eyes darkened as he took in the bite. Nobody spoke, but the mood went from weary to defeated just like that because all of them knew that Davie was already dead. Jeb wanted to scream in frustrated denial. He’d hesitated for a little too long before he’d swung the rifle and it had cost Davie his life. Fuck, this day had been a serious shit storm.
“Maybe because he didn’t bite all the way through you will be fine.” Harry said, but his voice cracked a little on the word fine and they were all thinking the same damned thing, the kid, who was only nineteen, was done for because nobody survived a bite.
“Find our people and get this cleaned up. We need to get home before the noise attracts more of the deadheads.” Jeb finally said trying to get their minds off the tragic mess that this day had turned into. He just wanted to go to his cabin, take a shot of whiskey, and forget that he’d messed up, again.
Losing four men, not to mention the boy who would soon turn—dying long before his ticket should have been punched—had been worth something. It was a harsh reality of their world that success was measured by the lives that were or were not lost on any given day. Scratches crew had brought back about six-month’s worth of supplies—making it worth some sacrifice on the club’s part. Not that Jeb or Grit liked losing their people, it was just a sad fact of their existence now.
Scratches and his group had found a gun warehouse and raided all the empty casings and gunpowder supplies they could find. They’d also found a large stock pile of weapons that had been secured in an underground bunker that had somehow escaped the notice of the people who’d already raided the place. It was a good find and one that hadn’t happened in a while, because as the months wore on supplies were becoming scarce. They’d realized a year ago that they needed people with different skill sets if they were going to survive. Hell, half the club hadn’t gone to college and more than sixty percent of the original club had died in the first year.
Randy, a chemist from Rapid City, South Dakota was one of the first few guys they’d took in. Grit hadn’t been the president then and he’d still been an enforcer, but Toke had convinced the club to let the man stay. It turned out the guy was dead useful, he’d somehow figured out how to make gun powder as well as a few medications and antibiotics in the lab they’d set up for him. Jeb was glad that they’d found him and three of his sisters holed up in a little motel starving to death and had taken them in. Randy had quickly gotten on board with helping them create a way to replenish their dwindling supplies. It didn’t take him long to figure out how to make chemical compounds for both protection and medical needs.
Taking in people who were willing to work was the way the club had learned to survive long before the apocalypse showed up. Even when they’d been a ragtag band of brothers back when the world was normal, they’d had a code. You could stay, but you had to help keep the club afloat, so really nothing had changed. Whether it be by serving meals, tending the hydroponics farm, making bullets, or tending to some other small day to day need, if you wanted to stay with the MC, then you worked.
Jeb and every other man in the club knew it was the only way they were going to survive. Kids were the only ones who got a free pass, at least until they hit puberty. Grit’s plan was to teach them basics and when they were about eleven or twelve they’d start training them in whatever field they chose to learn. The system seemed to work and they’d already done it with the four teens who had been part of the original club.
Jeb sighed, shaking off those thoughts as he turned to glance at the freshly dug graves, feeling a cold dark part of himself mourning the fact that he’d taken that shot to protect Davie rather than taking out the leader of that cult. The kid hadn’t started into the fever yet, but it had only been about ten hours since he was bit. He’d need to get past the fifteen-hour mark before he was in the clear, but Jeb didn’t hold out any hope that Davie would live. He’d learned a long-damned-time ago that this disease was going to end up killing them all.
His hands fiercely gripped the shovel that he’d been using, as he felt the anger over his men’s deaths pour over him. Davie was just a kid and the others they’d lost had been damned good men. He knew shooting that deadhead had been the right thing to do, but he couldn’t be happy about it because it hadn’t saved anyone. Killing the cult leader would have cleared his plate of one more problem. His choice to save Davie was going to come back to bite him in the ass. Hell, it already had, Jeb had known it was a mistake from the moment Davie had shown him the bite on his arm.
Jeb watched as Grit grimly tossed the last shovel of dirt on the graves they’d been covering up. Grit nodded to him, his anger just as evident as Jeb’s, as he met Jeb’s eyes with his own brown ones. Neither one spoke, moving as one away from the graves. They’d led the funeral for their people, but neither of them had enjoyed the harsh reality that they were losing the battle bit by tiny bit. Jeb ran his eyes over the grave yard where they buried their people with a jaundice eye. Forty-nine graves were dug into that hard earth just on the outer edge of the compound, and those were just the ones they’d dug inside the walls. When the first bodies hit the ground at the beginning, they’d buried them in a graveyard about two miles away.
Jeb and Grit had known for a long time that they were all going to die. Whether it was to the disease, or the crazies of this new world, the results were the same and one day there wouldn’t be anyone left, because the world was dying—it was just taking its sweet damned time about it. It wouldn’t stop him or Grit from fighting till their last breath, but it was their inevitable end without a cure for the disease. That cure was never going to happen, because no one knew enough about the disease to even work on a cure, and when the CDC fell, humanity lost any chance at recovery. Jeb let out a sigh and leaned back to look up at the sky. As Jeb watched the sun rapidly fade on the horizon, he couldn’t help but hope that its absence would cool things off, because the summer months were brutally hot here in what had once been Utah.
He could feel his t-shirt sticking to his chest like it was glued to him as sweat coated his skin. Damn, he would kill for air conditioning right about now, but it was too hard on the generators to run the central air, so they only ran a few small window units in the clubhouse main room. If Derick’s plan worked out, they might have better options for power soon. Before the deadheads showed up, Derick was a scientist studying clean power and he was working on setting up both solar panels and a wind station to harness power for the compound. Jeb knew that the very first thing he was doing when they got reliable power, was making sure his cabin had central air.
Rubbing the sweat off his brow, he stared out towards the hill-top where they were setting the station up. It was outside the walls, but they were working on making a similar set up for the power station. They planned on building walls around it that wouldn’t interfere with the working of the wind mills. Jeb hoped that spreading out like they were wasn’t going to cause issues with security because their manpower was limited these days. Grit was brilliant when it came to security, but even he was limited when he didn’t have the men he needed to make his plans work. Jeb knew they had to work it out, because the idea of having power again was bringing hope for a normal life, and that was something they all needed.
Jeb tossed the shovel into the golf cart and grabbed some warm beer from the cooler, handing one to Grit. Taking a seat, the two of them sat in companionable silence, neither one wanting to talk about the truth they were both struggling to face.
An hour later, Jeb was sitting on the porch at the clubhouse with his head resting back on the support behind him with Grit. They’d played poker with Davie and some of the boys until Davie had gotten tired and left, heading to the infirmary where he was staying. Having anyone who’d been bitten stay in the infirmary was a precaution they’d started a long time ago in order to keep the illness contained. It was safer for everyone if the infected person was in the infirmary with two guards who were both prepared to put down anyone in order to prevent the infection from spreading and taking over the compound before they could get it under control.
“Poor kid.” Grit muttered, as he pulled a cigarette out, placing it in his mouth before holding them out to Jeb.
“Yeah, it’s a damned shame.” Jeb answered, reaching out to grab the pack of cigarettes from Grit. He took one out and lit it, inhaling deeply before blowing it out, creating a long line of smoke in the darkness surrounding them. Grit took his cigarettes back and lit his own smoke, staring out at the quiet night before them. The nights were cooler than the days and it was much more comfortable to sit outside at night, which was why several people could be seen sitting on their porches with little lanterns or candles sitting beside them.
“Harrison says he started the fever last night.”
“Yeah, I noticed when he was leaving tonight that he’d started sweating.” Jeb replied, his heart squeezing a little to know that the boy hadn’t gotten away from the infection like they’d hoped he would. None of them had really believed it was possible, but they’d wanted the boy to make it.
“Won’t take long before he’s in the comma and we’re putting him down like a rabid dog.” Grit grunted, anger in his tone. To some, their conversation would seem heartless because putting the kid down sounded wrong, but it was better than what happened if they didn’t. Killing Davie before he became a deadhead was their only option once he entered the comma.
“Did you ever think we’d be here two years ago when those reports started coming through?” Jeb asked Grit after a long pause.
“Nah, I thought they’d get that shit under control. They seemed to have their shit together at first.” Grit snorted, his foot swinging back and forth between two railings as he spoke.
“I didn’t either. I never thought they would be as good at handling it as they thought they would, but I never thought it would overtake them completely. I mean hell, they had a fucking army of men.” Jeb took another long drag on the smoke and shook his head.
“True, but it was a venerable army. When your army can become your enemy, I guess it’s hard to win the fight.” Grit’s words were ones Jeb had never considered, but he could see the logic in that argument.
“I just wish they’d figured out something to combat this disease before they went to hell in a hand basket” Jeb muttered, his voice hard as he thought of all the things that had happened over the past two years. He couldn’t help dwelling on all the friends they’d buried. Jeb lifted the cigarette to his mouth taking another deep drag as he gazed out at the porch across the way, where Gretta sat with her two boys—Thomas and Leroy Jr.—remembering the day they’d come back from a run to find Leroy Sr. trying to get into the bedroom to eat Gretta and the boys.
That had been about a week after the outbreak and he’d been the first of the club to turn—but he hadn’t been the last. At the time, they hadn’t realized that anyone with a symptom needed to be kept separate and in a contained environment. It hadn’t taken them long to learn that lesson. Jeb was glad that Gretta had realized something was wrong with her old man and gotten her kids to safety. Dutch—Leroy’s road name—wouldn’t have wanted his old lady and kids to be hurt by Dutch himself or anyone else. Gretta and the boys, and all the others like them, were the reason he and Grit were still fighting. They couldn’t let their people down, even if it meant fighting a war they knew they couldn’t win.
“You think we will make it?” Grit asked, his gaze on Gretta and the kids too.
Jeb glanced at Grit wondering if he was the only one who felt the inevitable end to this fight bearing down on them, but from Grit’s expression and tone, Jeb knew he didn’t think they would survive any more than he did.
“I don’t, but we have to try—for them.” Grit’s eyes clouded with darkness and he nodded once, his eyes cold and his face determined.
“Yeah, for them.” Grit said, and Jeb knew it was a vow.