A note from the Archivist

Thus ends the first part of Life after the Dead. From the transcripts found outlining Jarod’s family and their finding of Westmore Village, we come to an odd time in his life. Though things don’t become markedly easier after the family’s entry to the community, it does come with security. Such a level of security and the responsibility that comes with maintaining it can leave a hole in the vision of a man’s life, especially when the time once dedicated to journaling is spent elsewhere.

This is not to say that the story doesn’t exist. It does, but it is fragmented and largely left for interpretation. In addition, with gaps sometimes reaching months long, integrity and continuity also become shrouded in the mystery of the past. We can all fill in the gaps of the world during the time which Jarod and his family lived in, but the insight into the unique perspective is what we admire about this story, isn’t it?

Alas, this is a long winded attempt to announce a hiatus in the publication of Jarod’s story. Current restraints in the Archivist’s offices leaves only myself and a small contingent of fellow editors. This, in conjunction with the unique nature of Jarod’s story, leaves not only large gaps in the story to fix or even fabricate based on assumptions of life during that time, but potentially large holes in it’s publication as well.

I apologize for the inconvenience.


The Archivist


One week later:

“Thanks for stopping by, but really. I’m fine.”

“Don’t be modest. You took a bullet. There’s no honor in dying from infection,” the medical said.

“To him, there’s honor in choking to death on a burrito. Don’t worry, Georgia. I’m keeping an eye on him,” Tiffany replied.

“Yes, I keep forgetting. I’m sorry dear, I’m not used to having another medical around.”

“It’s alright. We’re still a little shell shocked, too.”

“Well, alright then. But if anything changes,” Georgia starts

“We’ll be right in touch. 74B, right?” I interrupt, looking down at my watch.

“Well, yes,” she replies.

“Thank you,” I say, disappearing back into the apartment.

Wincing, I pull on my coat and zip it while Tiffany continues to talk with Georgia. I walk into the kitchenette and nearly get run over by Doug as he whirls around me, one shoe on and the other missing. He apologizes as he rushes past, screaming Tommy’s name.

“Hurry up! It’s my turn!”

I shake my head and look for my own shoes. Tucked under a salvaged end table next lie my work boots. There’s still a small splatter on the toe of the right foot left from the time outside of the community. I grab them and slide the boots on, one at a time. I rub at the stain for a moment, and sigh when nothing happens.

“Uh huh, thanks again, Georgia,” Tiffany says through a closing door.

As the door click shut, I look up at her. Her head’s resting on the cool wood. She sighs.

“Every morning,” she says.

“Every morning.”

Tommy comes running out of the bathroom. Doug huffs as he closes the door behind him. I look down at my watch. He had spent twelve minutes in the bathroom. I tap it and look at Tiffany. She sighs and bends down on one knee, catching him as he runs by.

“Tommy, what did we say about bathroom time?” she asks.

“Five to seven minutes,” he recites.

“That’s right,” I reply, “We can’t waste electricity here. We have to share it with everyone.”

“Okay,” he says sheepishly, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay buddy. We’re still learning,” I reply. I look over his shoulder at TIffany. A thin line stretches across her face. I look back at Tommy.

“From now on, I’m going to knock when you’ve been in there for five minutes. That way, you’ll know. Okay?”

“Great. Now, are you excited about today?”

“I guess. Ms. Penny is going to teach us how to sew.”

“Really? That’s awesome. My mammaw taught me how to sew when I was your age,” I say, patting him on the shoulder.

“Sewing’s a girl’s thing, isn’t it?” Doug says.

I look up and he’s standng in the hallway, fully dressed and ready to go.

“We all have to contribute,” Tiffany replies, her brow scrunched over her nose.

“I guess. Can’t we run errands or something instead?”

“You’ll get trained in a number of skills, apparently,” I respond, “Besides, the more you learn to do, the better off you’ll be when -”

Tiffany shoots me a glare that could burn through steel. I winch and hope that Doug doesn’t catch it. I’m sadly disappointed.

“When what?” he asks.

“Nothing, kiddo. Don’t want to ruin the surprise.”

“Come on, Tommy. You’ll be late for your first day. You don’t want that, do you?” Tiffany says, wrangling the two of them towards the door. I giver her a gateful smile.

“I thought you were taking us,” Tommy asks, looking up at me.

“I wish I could champ, but I’ve got to get to assignments.”

“Assignments?” he said, puzzling his way through the word.

“Yeah. Everyone’s got to contribute, remember?”

He shakes his head, still disappointed by the answer. I ruffle his hair a bit and shoo them both out the door. A quick kiss from Tiffany, and the door clicks shut. I take a deep breath and walk into the bathroom. Splashing some warm water on my face, I look at reflection. As I stare myself dwn through the mirror, I can the glossy eyes of the bleeding monsters staring back at me. Closing my eyes tightly, I turn and leave the bathroom.

Chapter 8.5

“What the hell happened to you?!”

I jerk awake, fall off of the bed, and pull back to the corner. I clutch at my shoulder as pain flashes across my eyes in blinding force. I hiss like a cornered animal and shield my eyes with my free hand.

“Whoa, calm down. Are you alright?”

I try to cover my face with my hand, snarl at nothing in particular, and squeeze my eyes shut.

“Get back. He’s rabid,” says the angry Russian.

I wait, waving my hands around in front of me, for the inevitable blow to silence me. Nothing but silence fills the room. Eventually I get curious about what’s taking so long and I open my eyes again. The fluorescent glow stings my eyes, and I squint to see Nicholi, Patrick and Tiffany standing on the other side of the cell.

“Jarod, can you hear me?” Tiffany asks.

I can, so I nod my head.

“What’s wrong?” she asks.

“What -“

“Well, he’s not that rabid,” Patrick quips.

“Then what’s wrong with him?”

“Well, for starters, he has an angry Russian hovering over him when he wakes up. I’d be a little out of it too if I woke up to you.”

“Now’s not the time for your jokes,” Nicholi says.

“I agree. I’m just being honest,” Patrick responds.

Looking back to me, he reaches out a hand, “You alright?”

I nod my head, still curious as to what’s going on. I’m able to comprehend them, to respond. I know the words to use, and I’m sure if I tried, I could make them work. I raise my hands for a moment and move closer to the bed. I reach and grab the thermometer.

A minute or so later, I read my temperature at 98.9.

“What happened last night?” Tiffany asks.

“I – I don’t know. I must have had a fever dream, like Doug,” I manage.

“What do you mean?”

“Huh? Nothing. I don’t know what happened.”

There’s silence in the room as everyone looks back and forth to one another. Tiffany takes a step forward and reaches into her pocket. She pulls out a small flashlight. She asks if she can examine me, and I agree. I stay still as she shines the light in my eyes, inspects the wounds in my shoulder, and checks my temperature again.

After the examination, she turns back to Patrick and Nicholi and pronounces me healthy and unturned. My eyes gape wide as I remember the events of the night before. I flinch after considering going to the window to look at my reflection. I look down at my hands. I rub them together and feel the warmth kindle itself from the friction. I smile slightly and look back up to Nicholi. He remains expressionless.

After a handful of formal questions, Patrick and Nicholi leave the room. They leave the door open behind them, and I can feel the cool air come into the room. Tiffany sits down next to me and we hold hands in silence for a few minutes. Eventually, she turns and plants her face in my neck and starts bawling.

“I was so afraid,” she says, “I was so afraid to be alone.”

“It’s alright,” I say, “I told you I would be fine.”

She tries to reply, only to sputter a couple of words before collapsing onto my shoulder. Holding her up with my left hand, We hold each other until the doorway is crowded with everyone. Doug and Tommy run through the door, arms outstretched. Alex comes in behind them. Doug throws his arms around my waist. Tommy attaches to a leg. I chuckle weakly as Tiffany steps back. Looking up, I see John and Martha in the window, a tear in each of their eyes.

Chapter 8.4

Isolation can do a great deal to an unprepared mind. I go sit on the cot provided for me and try to stay focused on Tiffany smiling at me as she was carted away. She assured me that everyone was okay, but paranoia is a powerful enemy in isolation.

After the minutes turned into hours and the hours melted in and out of one another, I find myself banging my head against the wall. Every hour, or at least I think it’s been an hour, I grab the thermometer and place it under my tongue. So far my temperature has stayed level, floating around the 99.0 mark.

I sit, tapping my feet against the lacquered floor of the court and staring out into the empty hallway. There’s a single light flickering along the end of the hall, and I can barely see my reflection in the otherwise clear glass.

I stare at myself for a couple of minutes, leaning my head from side to side. I scoot closer to the window, and I find myself looking at my own ghost. He’s odd. There’s lines at the corners of his eyes and his skin looked like an old painting that’s been left out in the weather too long. I reach out and touch the cool glass. He’s even cold to the touch. As I examine my replication, I avert my eyes from themselves. I know what I’ll see there, and I’m not interested in the knowledge.

As the day passes way and gives in to the night, I try to sleep. Lying on the cot, I lay my head down and stare up at the ceiling. After a few minutes of twiddling my thumbs, I sink into an uneasy sleep.

I wake up clawing at my face. I’m gasping for breath, struggling to free myself from a rope that isn’t there. I roll off the cot, scramble around on the polished floor, and fight to my feet. I stumble across the room, up to the glass. It’s cool to the touch, and I can almost hear my skin sizzle as it touches the glass.

Panic shoots through me as I scramble back to the cot, to the thermometer. I put the probe in my mouth and pace from one end of the court to the other about a hundred times before the electronic beep sounds. I pull the tip from my mouth and look at the small glowing display.


I drop the thermometer and back myself into a corner. I open my mouth to scream, but I find it dry. I rasp and sputter in the air, barely managing gurgling sounds. I sink to the ground, crying and digging at my throat.

Minutes pass like decades.

Finally I’m too tired to fight myself anymore. Still feeling as though I’m on fire, I crawl over to the window. I press myself against the cold glass and sigh in relief for a moment. The sweat pools on my forehead and drips down into my eyes. I wipe at them to keep the stinging pang away, but it only smears the salty mess around. I turn and look up into the mirror.

All I see is my eyes.

I stare into the glossy sheen of my distant reflection, and I can feel the life slowly drain out of them, out of myself. I try to avert my eyes, but I’m tied to the task of watching myself turn. I stare deep into my eyes as they glaze over. I begin clawing at my neck and cheeks again. I can feel blood pull to the top of my skin, and I swear that it feels like it’s cooling.

As the glossy sheen coats my eyes, I catch a final glimpse at myself. I see myself grow and evolve. I witness myself as a skeptic for the first time. I see my attempt at being normal, at failing. I see the eventual collapse come. I watch myself spiral down and out into a paranoid frenzy. I watch myself become a killer, a cold blooded killer. I watch myself die.

But most importantly, I watch myself come back.

Chapter 8.3

I wake up sitting on a cot. Tiffany is by my side, holding my hand. I groan a little and she smiles.

“It’s…only a flesh wound.” I say.

“Then they the hell did you pass out?” she asks me.

“No clue. Maybe the blood loss?”

“Well don’t do it again,” she says, smiling.

I smile a bit, and sit up. I feel my head, and I instantly pull my hand back. I’m burning up. I look over to Tiffany, and the smile fades from her lips.


“Well, the guy thinks you’re infected.”

“If the bullet traveled through one of the monsters, then he’s right,” I manage.

“Don’t. Just don’t.”

I look around the room to find myself in an open room. There are a handful of cots strewn about, and I find only one other person there. He’s an older gentleman, well into his 60s or seventies. He hasn’t fared as well in life as Milton did, and he was coughing into a dirty rag. I look back up to Tiffany.

“So we’re really here?” I ask.

“Yeah, we made it,” she says.

A smile crosses my face and I set my feet on the ground. Tiffany tries to stop me, but I wave her away. I stand completely, and rock back and forth. I can feel my vision jump around in my head, and I look back to Tiffany.

“Am I drunk?”

“No, just light headed. I tried to stop you.”

She stands up next to me, holding me by the arm.

We walk through the doors of workout facility and back into the cold. Looking into the daylight, I see a handful of people walking around. Some of them are carrying buckets or baskets filled with random items. I can hear the laughter of children are playing tag somewhere in the distance. Looking along the line of the apartment buildings, I see a couple of men with rifles walking with haste past the others.

A couple of minutes later, I’m sitting in a chair in the apartment complex’s front office. There’s a man, probably a bit older than John, sitting in the chair behind the desk. Patrick is standing on one side of him, and the Russian is standing on the other side of him.

“Welcome to Westmore Village,” the man says, “You must be Jarrod.”

I’m startled that he already knew my name, but I sat up as straight as possible, assuming that Tiffany or someone told him.

“Yes, sir.”

“Please, my father was a sir. My name’s Martin Leederman.”

“But everyone here calls him Leader,” Patrick chimes in, winking at me.”

“Please, let’s not perpetrate that.”

“Just sayin’.”

“Nicholi here says you and your group helped clean out the contruction site.”

I nod my head.

“Well, we greatly appreciate that,” Martin continues,”but Nicholi also says you might be infected.”

“There’s no way of knowing that,” Tiffany says, interrupting him.

“Well, I simply disagree.”

“It’s possible,” I say, “If your men hit one of them before the bullet went through me.”

“That’s what we’re afraid of,” he says, standing up.

“Now, Patrick has told me a good deal about you two, and I will say, it’s quite impressive what you’ve managed to accomplish with such a small group. However, we cannot provide any special treatment for anyone, given these particular circumstances.”

“What are you talking about?” I ask.

Raising his head slightly, Nicholi speaks.

“We’re kicking you out.”

“Oh nonsense,” Martin says.

A look of clear surprise shoots across the Russian’s face. He looks back to Martin immediately.

“As your head of security, I recommend that he not be allowed in the community. We have come too far to fall to a foolish outbreak.”

“I agree. However, these fine folks have come off of their mountain for the comfort of this community, and we will not turn them away. We can keep him under observation in the fitness center until we can be sure he isn’t infected.”

“But sir.”

“That decision is mine to make, Nicholi, and I have made it.”

A smile stretches across my face as I see the scowl on Nicholi’s. Hew looks at me, and the expression deepens.

“Patrick, take Tiffany and her family to Complex B. Help them pick out a three apartments. Make sure they feel at home.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Nicholi, I want you to take Jarrod back to the fitness complex. Lock him in the racquetball court”

He looks at me, “I hope you understand that I’m going to have to chain you to the bed.”

Before Tiffany could protest, I nod my head.

“I understand.”

As I’m being led back into the makeshift hospital, I stop the angry Russian for a second.

“I believe we started off on the wrong foot,” I say.

I extend my left hand to him. He looks down to my hand and looks back up to me.

“It would have helped if you hadn’t gotten shot.”

“Shot saving your asses from that horde.”

“That truck is used specifically for that purpose. That’s a champion derby truck. Those asshole’s aren’t going to get through that at all.”

“Even still, you don’t have to be a dick about it.”

“Keeping everyone in this complex safe is my job. It’s not my fault you’re a moron, running around with a machete chopping at zombies.”

“Alright, fine.”

The burly Russian leads me back to the fitness complex, back through the open floor into a solid white racquetball court. “I had no idea the people out here even knew what racquetball was” was the only though crossing my mind as I hear the clock click in to place behind me. Nicholi looks at me through the glass. I hear him say through the glass.

“If you try to escape. I’ll shoot you. If you turn, I’ll shoot you as well.”

“No shit. When do I get to see my family?” I ask.

“Patrick is taking them to their rooms. Once he does, he’ll bring your wife down to you.”

Without another word, he turns around and walks off hurriedly.

I press my head up against the glass. I take a couple of deep breaths, and try to focus. My head is throbbing due to the pain shooting through me. I squint my eyes, trying to straighten my vision, and I sink to the floor. I continue to breathe, and eventually I’m able to keep the lines in the world around me from wiggling.

About an hour passes Tiffany comes up to the window. Her eyes are red and she just stares at me for a few minutes.

“How are you feeling? Are you hot, cold? Are you still nauseous?”

“Calm down, honey. I’m fine.”

She stares through the glass window at me for a moment. I can feel her eyes scrutinize me as she looks up and down my body. I shift uncomfortably, feeling like an odd cross between meat in a butcher shop and a puppy in a pet store.

“I need you to take your temperature. Someone is coming with a key soon. I’m going to leave it here. You need to check it every hour or so. Keep track of it.”


“How’s your shoulder?”

“Still has a hole in it.”

Silence again. I shift back and forth and put my hand on the window. She places her hand on her side and I smile.

“Tiffany, I’m going to be alright.”

“I know. I’m just afraid. I don’t know what I’ll do if I lose you.”

“You’ve still got your mom and dad, and you’re safe now,” I reassure her.

“I don’t want to be safe. I want to be with you.”

A smile stretches across my face. I look away for a moment, and then back. I stare into her eyes for what feels like days. A jailor comes and opens the door eventually, but neither of us say anything. He sets a small pouch with a thermometer and a pad of paper to record temperatures. He walks away after we don’t answer his questions.

Eventually my eyes blur with tears and I take a step back from the window. Looking down to my watch, it’s almost 5:00PM. I walk over to the pouch and pull out the probe and place it under my tongue. A couple of minutes pass in silence until a small beep sounds.

“What is it?” she asks.

“98.8. I told you I’m fine.”

“Yeah,” she says, smiling, “I’ve got to go check on Doug. One of the medicals here has been trying to get him to take an antibiotic shot.”

“He’s a stubborn kid,” I say.

“That he is. I’ll try to be back tomorrow. Patrick told me they want to keep you here for 24 hours. I’ll come back later tonight.”

“No. You need rest. I’ll be fine here. I’ll see you in the morning.”


“But nothing. Get some rest. Spend the time with your parents. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Okay, but if the temperature changes, you scream until someone comes and you tell them to come get me.”

Her eyes are shimmering now. I can tell she’s trying to hold a flood back, and I smile as kindly as possible to reassure her again.

“Sure thing, honey. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Chapter 8.2

John and Alex load into the truck. We back up and start back down the road. We drive slower than before, making sure we find the proper road. I imagine Alex is watching the map. We continue down the road a bit, and as we drive closer and closer to the proposed construction side, the world starts groaning. The sounds grow louder as we make the gravel road turn off into the development division, and as we start seeing the bare ground of the site, we become aware of gunshots and screams among the moaning monsters.

John screeches to a stop, and Tiffany almost hits the back of his truck.

“What’s going on?” I ask.

“There’s a mob of them,” John says.

“Do you see any people?”

“Looks like there’s a couple,” he says.

I see the door open up on both sides. I look to Tiffany.

“Go back to the road. Keep the walkie.”

She nods, and I get out of the car. I motion for her to pop the trunk, and she does. Reaching into the truck between the medical supplies we brought, I grab the machete Doug used before. Seeing a small rusted spot of blood on the tip, I remember screaming at him from inside the shop. I groan for a second, then shake my head and close the trunk.

I run up to the Truck, where Martha is scooting over into the driver’s seat. John and Alex both have ttheir rifles on the ready. Looking in front of the truck, I can see a group of at least a dozen of the bleeding freaks. I take a deep breath in, and look to Alex.

“Where are the people?”

“They’re running around somewhere,” he replies.

I slide the machete under my belt and pull out my revolver. Looking into the fray, I try to find anyone that looks human among them. I scream into the group to move if they can understand me.

I get no reply.

Taking a couple of steps forward, I begin closing the gap between me and them. A couple of the stragglers notice me first and start turning back towards me. A couple of bullets fly through the air and they fall onto the ground. Looking over my shoulder, I see Alex taking a couple of steps toward me as well. Martha is backing up the truck. She turns it around and turns off the motor. John gets into the beds of the truck and lays down. I watch him aim into the fray.

Turning back around, I see one of the monsters in the crowd fall in a spray of brown sludge. A few of the group around him notice and turn to us. Alex and I begin firing into them again. Two more shots from me, three from him. I miss one of the heads, and the bullet punches it in the shoulder. It keeps walking forward, groaning.

Over all the moans and snarling, I can hear another gunshot go off. It’s not Alex nor Johns. Looking around, I see a tall man, at least six feet tall, standing on the steel frame of the construction. He’s holding a high powered rifle, and as he fires again, I see one of the monster’s head perforate into a cloud of mist.

“Who’s there?” screams a voice, this time from the other side of the construction park.

“Friends!” I yell, firing again into the monster I had wounded. This time the monster fell to its knees, completely lifeless.

Sliding the gun back into it’s holster, I pull the machete back from my belt and charge the closest monster. It’s shambling away from the group, barely able to keep itself vertical. I take a couple of long strides and swing the machete over my head. The blade slices through it’s head with ease, taking half of the skull and brain with it. Putrid blood splatters across me as the thing lurches forward, toppling ot the ground.

John and Alex continue firing into the shrinking mob ahead of us. I veer off to the side, heading for the two monsters pooling at the bottom of the steel structure. Coming up behind the first one, I slice through its head. The second one turns just as I shover the machete blade through it’s glossy eye socket.

I look up into the sun at the man standing above me. He’s holding his rifle at ease and looking over the site grounds. He takes only a moment before looking back down to me and shouts.

“Go around the group to the other side, There’s a larger group there.”

I reach into my pocket, pull out a handful of bullets, and load the clip of the gun before running in the direction he pointed me. I look over my shoulder to see Alex unsheathing his Bowie knife.

Running around the group of monsters, I see the second group the tall man was talking about. There’s a horde of about 10 surrounding a truck. Gunshots are being fired from inside a steel grated window. I run forward, grab the first one I come to by the back of the head, and take it off. I toss the writhing head as far as I can away from us, and sling the blade through the next two closest ones.

Within the minute, I’m covered in the cold blood of the monsters. After they finally notice there’s something behind them, they begin to turn and come towards me. I take a few steps back and toss the machete a few yards behind me. After I get out of splatter range, I draw my gun again and fire into the closest monster.

Shots continue to fire from the truck, and two more monsters fall to the ground. I take a step away from the monsters. Pulling the trigger, I hear two gunshots. A second later, I can feel a white hot fire growing in my shoulder. I stumble backwards for a minute, and grasp at the wound.

“FUCK!” I scream.

I roll over, sending a shockwave through my shoulder and arm, and try to sit up. Tears well in my eyes as I sit, gun in hand. I grab a rag from my pocket and inspect it to see if there’s any blood on it. Finding none through the tears, I wipe my eyes with them.

Able to see again, I aim my gun at the freak closing in on me. I first try to hold it with my right hand. It felt like I was trying to lift a ton brick of fire. Dropping the gun, I pick it up with my left hand, and fire into the monster’s face.Scrambling to my feet, I run back about 10 yards, I stand next to my machete and fire into the monsters again.

Gunshots echo around me as I see two more of the monsters drop to the ground. Blood makes up the composition of the scene more than anything else now, and I continue looking at the shambling bodies roaming around. As I count them, Alex runs up next to me.

“Everything alright?”

“No, I’ve been fucking shot.” I yell unncessarily.

He looks me over.

“Take the shirt off, now,” he instructs.

I shuck the coat and shirt and look down to my shoulder. A purple and red hole leaks blood as I stare down blankly at it. I stare at it for a moment, then notice that Alex is taking his coat off. I pull it one, wince and tear up at the pain again, and point my gun at the nearest thing. I squeeze the trigger, and it drops to the ground.

A couple of minutes pass as Alex and I continue to take out the monsters. I stay back once I empty my clip and he runs forward with his knife. He quickly runs around one of them, shoves the knife through the top of its head, pulls it out, and runs on to the next one.

The gunfire slows down, allowing only a shot every now and then. The door to the armored truck opens, and two men, both covered in camouflage step out of the truck, resting their guns on their shoulders.

Once they notice me, the first one grabs his weapon. I put my left hand up in the air, still holding the gun. The two of them march towards me, pointing their guns.

“I’m alive,” I shout.

“Why are you only raising one hand?” one of them shouts at me through a mask.

“Because one of you fucking shot me!”

“What?” the other one asks.

“I’ve been shot!” I yell louder.

They lower their weapons and run up to me. They inspect the wound, both front and back, and look back at me. My breathing slows a bit, the adrenaline beginning to dissipate. I can feel the throbbing in my shoulder and chest, and all of a sudden my body feels incredibly heavy.

I regain consciousness in the bed of John’s truck. I can hear Martha in the cab, talking to Tiffany over the radio. I try to sit up, but there’s a hand that’s holding my left shoulder in place.

“Hold still,” a voice says.

“I look up the arm to find a man holding me down. Looking over to my right side, I see a man sitting over my right shoulder, holding a needle and thread in hand.

“I had hoped you’d be out for this part,” he says in a rough accent.

Looking away, I see the man on the other side give me a rag.

“Bite on this,” he says.

I listen. I bare down on the cloth as I feel the needle pierce the skin next to the wound. I scream into the rag, and my head shake. The man puts more pressure on my shoulder, and I try to steady myself. I can feel someone wrap their arms around my legs, and I try to sit up again to look down at my feet.

The man with the accent pushes me back down as I catch a glimpse of Alex, and I lay my head down on the cold truck bed. He pushes the needle through my skin again and I can feel the wound tighten as the thread pulls together. I stifle a scream again, and bite the rag harder as the Russian finishes the stitch.

Unable to keep myself from shaking, the two men help me up. Alex grabs me and pulls me to my feet. I wince, and he apologizes.

“Careful, he’s got a bullet hole there,” the Russian says.

“Got it, thanks,” Alex says.

He leads me to the cab of the truck. Helping me up into the cab, I scoot in close enough so they can close the door. Leaning my head out the window, I look at Alex.

“What’s… happening?” I manage.

“We’re going to the camp. There’s another group of them coming down the road, according to Tiffany. They’re going to lead us in.”

“Awesome,” I whisper, closing my eyes again.

I rock back and forth in the motion of the truck as it rumbles along the road, dancing in and out of consciousness. Each time I try to regain control of myself, I drift off again. I remember seeing the stonework gate, the granite letters announcing “Westmore Village”, and little more.

Chapter 8.1

The wind is strong coming off of the mountain. I feel the pull of the wild gusts at the light frame of the car. Tiffany holds the wheel steady, though. Watching her as we snake our way down the mountain behind her father, I can tell that she’s enjoying the ride a bit more this time. She’s leaning into the turns like a biker would, and her eyes haven’t left the road since we hit pavement. It’s like she’s staring into a lost lover’s eyes.

Once we get near the co-op at the beginning of town, we turn back down a road that’ll lead through a small community. We pull into a closer knit neighborhood. John flashes his brake lights at us twice to indicate there’s a freak alongside the road. Picking up speed, the speed past the monster at about 40 mph. Looking behind us, I can see that we’ve confused the beast, but haven’t really alerted it. We continue down the neighborhood.

As we drive through the silent neighborhoods, Tiffany and I point back and forth between houses. It’s something we used to do a long time ago, when we first entertained the idea of settling down. We would drive through random communities, find a house that we loved, and talked about living in it for years and years. Before the collapse, the economic one, not the literal one, we planned to make the world out of a nice stone house.

As we pass a red brick house, Tiffany comments on the shutters against the lifeless windows. White ornate trim surrounds the beige curtains inside the house. I crane my neck to look at it as we pass it, and I smile back to her.

“Yeah, those were nice.”

We continue on a bit, passing a couple of homes that we used to gawk at, we come up to a large, two story Victorian. We lusted over the second story balcony and the marble pillars every time we’d come up to her parents. Tiffany stops the car, stares out the window for about a minute, and sighs. I hear the click of the radio come on.

“Everything alright?” John asks.

“Yeah, just a little heartbroken, I think,” I reply.

I place my hand on Tiffany’s shoulder and squeeze it gently. I smile at her again, and she looks away for a moment. She fakes a sneeze and rubs a tear from her eye. Looking out the windshield, John’s truck is stopped a couple of hundred feet in front of ours.

“Are you alright, honey?” I ask.

“Yeah, I just haven’t thought about this house in ages. It’s oddly painful to see it when it’s not groomed and lived in.”

“I know. Maybe one day we’ll come and live in it,” I tell her.

She looks over at me for a moment, fakes a smile instead of a sneeze, and puts the car in drive again.

We continue down the back roads and communities until we come to Main Street. Looking across the road, we see a small group of freaks gathering in the road. John punches the gas again and drives through them. I hear a thump as one of the monsters bounces off of his bumper. I look back to Doug and Tommy.

“I need you two to stay quiet okay? If it helps, close your eyes and cover your ears.”

Doug nods his understanding and looks down to Tommy. He’s staring ahead, gazing into some far away dimension. Doug nudges him and smiles. Tommy looks up, sees Doug’s sickly smile, and half smiles back. Doug clasps his ears in his hands, and closes his eyes. Tommy shortly does the same.

As we speed through the horde of freaks reaching for our car, one of them falls on the hood of the car. Tiffany jumps in her seat, and I put my hand on her leg.

“I’m right here,” I tell her.

She loosens her grip on the wheel and swerves back and forth. Eventually, the monster slides off the side, leaving a gory streak of skin and blood across the silver paint job. I can see Tiffany’s face contort in disgust out of the corner of my eye, but I keep my eye on the road.

We continue following John across Main Street and down the side reads that will lead to the highway that connects Westmore Village with the rest of Pikeville. As we pull onto the highway, we find a handful of cars displaced along the sides of the road, a couple of them burnt from the inside. I hear Tiffany gasp as she sees a burnt corpse hanging out the side of one of the cars. As we slowly maneuver past the wreckage along the road, we find the turn off for Westmore Road blocked. There’s a barricade set in place. I look to Tiffany and she shrugs. They never mentioned a barricade, but it made sense. We pull up beside John and he and I get out of the cars.

“Well, what now?” he asks.

“It wouldn’t take too much to move them,” I tell him, “You’ve got the tow line on the truck. We could pull the barricade open, drive through, and pull it back shut.”

“Yeah, I guess. It’s just odd to see a blockade in front of a “welcome community.”

“I’m sure it’s for safety reasons.”

John nods his head. I go back to the car and knock on Tiffany’s window and tell her to back the car up. She does so, moving along the main road about a hundred feet. John backs up, turns again, and backs into the front of the barricade. Alex and I get out, draw our weapons, and look around the area. I hear the distant groans of trouble and tense immediately.

After a few minutes of inspecting the barricade, John walks up to us.

“It’s a gate. They have it rigged to only open from the inside. Assuming we intend on staying in good terms with these people, it’s probably not wise to rip it open.”

“Now that’s odd,” Alex says.

“Yeah, like I said, odd.”

“Alright, let’s not get too paranoid,” I say to no one in particular.

I knew John was right, though. It’s odd that the gate only opens inwardly, but I was doing what I could to keep my wits intact. We wouldn’t survive if everyone started getting itchy.

“Are there any other routes?” I ask, looking at Alex.

“Well, none on the map, but I remember a construction job not too far from here. My cousin tried to get me to work there, way back.”

“Oh yeah,” John inserts, “They’re looking to relocate the city’s apartment housing. I remember Westmore Village not being very happy about them moving it so close.”

“Think it’ll stretch all the way through?”

“Maybe,” Alex says, reaching into the truck. He grabbed the map from the glove box, and sets it on the hood.

“Here’s where the development was planned,” he says, pointing to an open ahead of woods, “And here’s Westmore. It’s probably our closest shot.”

“We could always turn back around,” I suggest. A look of surprise crosses Alex and John’s face, and it was all that I needed.

“Just had to make sure no one else was thinking it,” I say.

They both nod, and we depart.

“Change of plans,” I tell Tiffany.

“I hate it when the plans change.”

“Well, Patrick didn’t bother telling us about the gate here.”

“Actually, he said that there should be someone here.”

“Odd,” I say.