Nothing Left To Lose
I had to suppress my instinctive desire to knock off the creepy crawly things that were beginning to gather upon my body. Probably nothing more than ants or whatever but I always hated bugs and hated having them upon me or even near me. Yet I knew playing dead was a far safer alternative. We waited for countless minutes in the weeds looking up at the top of the guard-rail for any sign of the approaching walkers. I was beginning to wonder if they hadn't moved over to the far side of the freeway when I spied a head appearing alongside the steel rail. It shambled on not even looking left or right, or thankfully down where we were hiding. I constantly felt exposed and wanted to burrow myself into the weeds and ivy even further. My heart was racing and I could feel it in my skull as the pressure mounted.
That walker soon passed out of sight, but was followed by several others. One of them did glance towards the woods, but it's lifeless eyes seemed to scan right over where we were. I knew that immobility was saving our lives but I still fought the urge to get up and bolt. I usually wasn't this scared when dealing with a herd, but I understood after a minute it was likely that I wasn't alone and that any one of the others could freak out and give us away. I felt a moment of sadness that I still actually didn't totally trust these people, not even Maggie enough to know that their training in concealment was far superior to mine and that they had faced similar situations, well, except for James, unless you want to count the rise of the walkers, with a living, breathing, thinking threat.
Maggie told me that her father was a highly decorated combat soldier dating back to at least three wars, beginning with Vietnam and ending up in the first Gulf War against Iraq. His status in the military among all branches was legendary. Maggie herself, as I mentioned had done two tour of duties in Afghanistan and one in Iraq and she modestly confessed to being the bearer of a bronze star and of course the purple heart. Her husband's medals outweighed hers by far with the highest being a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross. Me, best accolade I can come up with for myself was a pat on the back for saving the company some money by suggesting a change in the lighting of the cave that I worked in.
I began to figit and Frank laid his hand upon my arm. “The hardest part of being a soldier is waiting for the right moment.” he whispered. Well, gee, that's nice Frank but I ain't no battle hardened soldier and I'd like to get the hell outta where we were right fricken now. But of course I bit down hard on that retort. He was making an effort to keep me calm under the circumstances. I glanced back up and kept an eye on a walker that seemed to pause right directly above us alongside the guard-rail. My hand crept to the M-16 laying besides me and again Frank's calm pressure on my arm reasserted itself. The walker took a step and I began to breathe a quiet sigh of relief when suddenly it's head exploded followed by a gunshot. Frank's gentle grip turned to a vise-like hold upon my arm and we both looked over at where Maggie and James lay and saw that neither of them had their weapons out, pointing up the slope. Someone else was shooting. My gut twisted at the thought of just who that someone or someones were. Hunters.
All our stuff was in the trucks above us, including my pack and sword. Again a part of me wanted to bolt but head up the slope to grab my stuff. Frank kept his hold on my arm, practically immobilizing me. “Don't,” he said tightly, “if we go up there then the hunters or shooters might mistake us for walkers or just shoot us just for fun along with the rest of the herd.” I struggled, but my... our stuff, they'll find it and we'll lose everything. Ammo, guns, food, meds, fricken everything!” I panted back at him.
He held my eyes with his. “Then it's better than losing our lives. We can get all of that again. But only if we stay alive.” He wasn't making an effort to keep his voice down anymore because there was a great deal of shooting going on up above us. I could make out faint whoops of “yee-haws” somewhere in the distance.
I nodded reluctantly, sorry as hell to lose my pack and my sword, but knowing he was right. But it still didn't make me feel any better. Yet there was still another problem that we faced. For walkers, our hiding places were adequate, but against Hunters they'd spot us eventually. I moved closer to the old man in order to be heard over the fusillade of gunfire “Frank, when they get done shooting they're going to check things out and they're going to find our trucks and the gear. The engines are still warm and they're going to know we're close-by. Hell, they might've even seen us as we went over the guard-rail. That first shot came from far off. The walker's head exploded before we heard the shot. Whomever it was is a helluva shot and definitely saw us when we moved to cover. We've got to get out of here now!”
Frank nodded and crawled out half way from his hiding spot and waved frantically at where Maggie and James were laying. Then in a quick succession of one handed signs, since he propped himself up on one elbow, he made motions for us to move up into the woods. I hoped he said “as quickly as possible.” I turned my head in time to see Maggie and James emerge, crawling and turn towards us. I watched as they moved in a flat belly crawl, their heads held up just barely to see ahead of them and their weapons carried along in one hand and the other helping pull them along, as their legs moved behind him also lying as flat as possible. It was if they were expecting fire to come along their way directly in front of them.
Within seconds they reached us and without a word began slithering over us through the tangle of weeds and vines. Frank spun on his axis and was inches behind Maggie's boot. I wasn't quite as graceful and spun around best as I could, without having to flip over. I ended up a couple of feet behind James' combat boots. At best I had on were high dollar hiking boots, scavenged from an abandoned car. Still in the box too. In a bag found in the same car were nice cushioned insoles, not quite so high dollar. That told me a lot about the person driving the car (presumably). They were like myself. Working man, making better than minimum wage, but not that much better, able by that grace, to buy better quality stuff if one saved up for a week or three. But earning enough to buy a semi-luxury item, cheaper made on the spot without hurting the budget.
But I'll save all that for later right now, what concerned me was getting my ... our asses up the hill and into the trees without being shot in the back. At least me anyway because of the four of us I was the easiest seen. My jacket was brown and I did wear BDU's (Army Navy store) and I had a black ball cap. So unless I could've been mistaken from a distance for a small, dark, hole in the ground that was oozing mud, They are going to know I'm there, as easily as if I was wearing a bright-orange neon vest like those highway clean-up guys used to wear. What I wouldn't have give, to have James' ghilly suit. They can be big enough to cover several people if spread out flat. With that we could've been mistaken for large patch of grass.
The shooting now, behind us, started to abate and the shouting of the Hunters were becoming louder. Getting closer. Among the shouts were screams of the walkers as they tried to attack back. I risked a quick look over my shoulder and saw one Hunter had a sudden case of the “stupids” and moved in too closely, too soon. He went down under a pair of walkers after firing once and missing their heads. His screams now added to the pandemonium. Three shots rang out in quick succession and the screams from all three were silenced. The Hunter I saw go down was white, and more importantly bald.
I kept moving and miraculously made it into the tree line without getting so much as shot at. That presented another opportunity. If played right. Once there we moved in until two trees were in front of us, then selected one and moved behind it separating us by only a couple of feet, either side.
I curled up and leaned back against the trunk of the one I selected and sat there holding the M-16 out side of my knees straight up so that the barrel or stock won't appear on either side of the trunk. A quick glance left and right showed Frank and Maggie had done the same, but James turned and laid on his belly still and had his rifle pointed out from where we came from. Maggie took a couple of breaths then spun and took position with her rifle, while kneeling. A quick look back and I saw Frank hadn't moved.
His eyes were shut and he was still trying to slow his breathing. Yeah, I thought to myself, getting old is gonna suck.
I managed to catch my breath quick enough and turned and without thinking laid down on my belly prone, like James. I think my basic psychology was kicking in. Imitation was the sincerest form of flattery. I guess a part of me was caring enough to want the kid to like me. After all, I was shagging his mom and intruded into their lives. At least I'm thinking how he's seeing it. I looked over at him, lying besides me two trees over and he was watching his mother as she “spoke” to him. Whatever it was it was done quietly by one hand as the other held her weapon on her knee with her finger just above the trigger. I watched this solo hand ballet go on for another few seconds before the sound of the shooting stopped and the shouting beginning to quiet down except for one voice getting louder to make the others quiet down. I made note of the voice for later identification.
Finally, just as Maggie had stopped signing, the voice called out to us. “Hey!” it paused and waited. I wondered if he knew he probably had a kid pointing a high powered rifle between his eyes. Would he be so bold? “Hey up there!” Through the sparse foliage I could make the speaker out. Tall, naturally and wearing a white wife-beater and camo BDU's and engineering boots to be so clique-ish. I almost laughed. He was Caucasian, bald and damned proud of it as evident from the large swastika tattooed on his neck. Definitely an Aryan. That was something we might be able to bluff our way through. If met correctly we could pass for klansmen at least. The four of us were white enough to not be so easily mistaken. I'd thought about pretending to be part of the brotherhood but realized that was risky on account of who you might not know. I had gotten to know a few Klan members where I worked. Never real friends with them but pleasant acquaintances at best and worked along side without conflict.
I looked quickly over at Frank for who would assume negotiations, he nodded at me. Grimly, I thought that he was taking a big risk, with his family on a guy they barely knew. As I nodded back, he turned and took Maggie's kneeling position behind his tree. I faced down hill again just in time to see the both of the speaker's arms flick sideways, up towards us. Instantly two others, armed with shot guns, came over the guard-rail and were working their way down to the patch where we laid during the first wave of our predicament. “If you don't care that those two will die, keep sending them on up the hill.” I shouted, my voice strengthen from making myself heard over an underground waterfall for a few years. The two men froze in their tracks, their guns held at the ready. Their faces were a little paler. Their eyes flicking back and forth along the tree-line. Even from my vantage point, I could see that they were looking at the first row of trees for us to be hiding behind. Okay, not exceptionally bright are the troops, what about the leader? I stayed quiet after that and waited it out.
The guy was a cool customer, because he was doing the same, waiting to see who could out last the other. I immediately grew frustrated at this childish behavior. But for our sake played his game. We still had a tactical advantage being up hill. Hopefully they haven't gone through our trucks yet and discover that they had a much bigger one than ours. Since there were no whoops and cheers for finding our cache forthcoming, it told me that this guy had the others under his control. Discipline was something the three of us were very familiar with. Myself, meh. But I held mine for now. Fortunately the leader spoke next.
“Well now, wonder who we got here.” he began and I placed his accent as deep south. Alright then. “You got some serious folks up here.” I replied. I could see the leader nod and he answered. “Oh yeah, mighty serious for an man, woman, old man and a boy can be” there was a pause, “but that's not what I asked was it?” he finished.
I shook my head, okay, how to answer? “You got some Klansmen up here.” I shouted in response before I realized it was the right thing to say. The leader actually jerked back a little in surprise that wasn't mocking or even mimicking. He placed his hands on his hips and cocked his head a little to the right, out of the corner of my eye I saw that James tilt his rifle a tad to keep the center cross hairs right between his eyes. The guy was going to be dead before he realized he heard the shot.
I had taken up sights on the guy to my right as Maggie did the same with the other one. Nice, we didn't even plan on that one together. I was really liking this girl.
The leader shifted his weight a little and glanced down at the ground for a moment, thinking obviously wasn't a strong suit after all. Either that or he was very cocky. “You are, are ya?” he asked and his tone was rhetorical. “Well, I guess we got nothing to worry about then, why don't you come on down and we'll talk, meet, get social like?”, his voice dripped with southern charm and hospitality. I didn't like it.
“I reckon, I could do that, providing if'n you can guarantee it'll be a peaceful one.” I responded easily enough, neither light nor dark in tone. I purposely thickened my southern accent a bit more than usual as well. A touch of home as it were. The reply was quick, “Oh, I'm sure to be able to o'blige yuh there, no problems, jes ya'll come on down and we'll parlay nice and pleasant like.”
I shook my head, realizing that I could walk right into a trap but thought up one better for them. “Tell ya what! You got a second in command down there?” I asked. Again the reply was quick, “yeah, you talkin' about a trade of hostages or sumpthin?” I nodded without him seeing me, “Yeah, just to make the guarantee a bit more solid as it were. But lets not call 'em hostages but more of emissaries.”
From my vantage point I could see him waving to someone off to his right. A heavy set guy stepped forward into view. He was bald but had a nice beard going, the two talked for a moment quietly. The beard stepped up to the guard-rail and waited, as the leader spoke. “Alright, c'mon down and my man will come on up, you two can pass each other by. Josh, Bill,” speaking to the two that were half way up the slope and holding their positions, “c'mon back down to the ditch.” The two obeyed and the beard stepped over the guard rail. I looked over at Maggie who was wide-eyed looking at me as if I lost my mind. I got up and moved over to her, keeping James between us.
“Listen, when I meet up with the second, you or James pop the leader right between the eyes, taking him out. I'm going to hold number 2 hostage and I'll bet that he's not going to be as smart as the head guy.” She began to protest, but I held up a hand to forestall her. “These guys are probably going to kill us anyway, we're lucky that they haven't searched our trucks yet, not from what I can see,” she interuppted, “no, they haven't, I can see both from here.” I turned and looked and saw that indeed she could see both of our trucks and while there were Hunters standing around them they haven't bothered to see what was in the trucks, which I thought was a damn good stroke of luck. “Okay then it's in our favor, when I grab the brim of my hat,” I reached up and demonstrated, “ then take the bastard out and quick, I'll take care of number 2.”
I reached for my side arm, chambered a round, clicked off the safety, and tucked the barrel down the front of my pants, praying it wouldn't go off. They'll expect me to come down armed but at least hands free. I slowly stood up as Maggie gave a quick interpretation to James who looked up behind his shoulder to try and get a idea of what was being planned. When she finished he nodded and began sighting down his scope at the guy. Maggie tapped him on the shoulder and held up two fingers of her hand and made a funny type of twist motion with her wrist, “switch places” was my guess. She wasn't going to let her son kill a living human being, not yet anyway. He shook his head and pointed at himself then at the man below. She slapped her knee and held out her hand more forcibly, demanding his rifle. James slapped the ground belligerently, but got up on his knees moving backwards and handing his rifle to Maggie who traded him the automatic. They then traded places. I hoped that Maggie was a good a shot as her son. I shouldn't have worried.
I then looked over at Frank who was nodding as he braced his 1911 against the tree trunk he was hiding behind. Already the plan was made with as little communication between us. Hmm, not a bad team to be on at that I thought, and moving on down the hill. I moved slowly so that my eyes would be able to adjust to the bright sun. I prayed that the sniper that they had was off somewhere to my left as I angled myself over to the right side, forcing number 2 to be on my left. If my plan worked, their sniper would have to shoot through their man to get to me. I continued on down hoping that I wouldn't get shot as I tried not to fall down the steep hillside.
My hands were out but more for keeping my balance than anything else, but at least they showed that I wasn't coming down ready to shoot.
As number two moved closer to me I could see a fine sheen of sweat on his brow and his hands twitched nervously. I stepped closer to him and could now see his pupils were dilated and bloodshot. I suddenly realized that he just might not be their number two guy after all. For all I knew we were all going to die this day. Finally we were standing even with one another and he began to start his way up the slope and I turned to him and spoke quietly.
“You ready to be a leader?” I asked, my right hand moved casually up to my cap and touched the bill as I showed Maggie. The beard's eyes widened suddenly and before he could turn and shout a warning, my hand fell to my gun and had it brought up touching his chin just as Maggie pulled the trigger.
Edited by DeadCave, 29 December 2011 - 08:11 PM.